China’s debt trap plan for Hungary

The current protests in Budapest are all about an attack on Orban’s democratic setback, his lack of transparency and his authoritarian policies. But Beijing’s economic expansion and ever-increasing greed are just a symptom of its biggest power play in Eastern Europe.

Why are thousands of people marching against the right-wing government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Hungary? The main reason behind the massive protests is a planned campus of Fudan University (Shanghai), a Chinese university, in the heart of Budapest. In addition, there is genuine fear that the Hungarian capital could quickly slip into China’s debt trap with its obscure development plans.

Beijing’s loan and investment plans have mainly led to a “silent debt trap” in most countries so far. China’s opaque policies abroad and its hidden agenda are an open secret.

Beijing bosses are trying to master the art of economic governance and translate it into massive power play in various parts of the world. Chinese observers argue that by expanding his economic might (for example, the Belt and Road Initiative), Chinese President “for life” Xi Jinping and his powerful are probably in a mad rush to buy goodwill and global influence in many pockets of the world.

Fudan University plans to open an overseas campus in Budapest offering a master’s degree program in liberal arts, medicine, business and engineering to around 6,000 students and 500 faculty members.

The Hungarian government signed a strategic contract with Fudan University on April 27 this year to complete this endeavor in three years. This controversial project puts Prime Minister Victor Orban’s relations with Beijing in the national spotlight ahead of the country’s legislative elections in 2022.

In early April, a Hungarian investigative newspaper known as Direkt36 reported that the pre-tax construction costs of the Fudan campus are estimated at $ 1.8 billion. Unfortunately, this cost is more than the entire expenditure of the Hungarian government’s education system in 2019. Leaked documents reveal that the Orban government would take a heavy loan of around $ 1.5 billion from a Chinese bank to cover the cost. major part of the establishment’s expenses. of campus. In addition, the Hungarian government is reportedly hiring a number of Chinese-based construction companies to complete the project by 2024.

In addition, an opinion poll released earlier this month by the liberal institute Republikon, a think tank, indicates that 66% of Hungarians say absolutely no to campus and just 27% are in favor.

This company will be the first Chinese campus of its kind in a European Union country to date and the first foreign outpost of the university based in Shanghai. The Orban government is backing the deal, saying the Fudan campus will improve the level of higher education in the eastern European country.

Orban has been Prime Minister of Hungary since 2010. But he is best known for his authoritarian side, which he has manifested for more than a decade. In addition, he has served as president of Fidesz, a national conservative party since 1993, with the exception of a break between 2000 and 2003. This is his second term as prime minister, the first being 1998-2002 , for four years only. A former Oxford student, Orban was once famous as a democracy activist in his youth. Obviously, one of his greatest contributions to post-Soviet Hungary was none other than the creation of Fidesz, along with other students. And this word “Fidesz” refers to “Alliance of Young Democrats”.

Ironically, today Fidesz is no longer considered a democratic party in Hungary. Orban, the founder himself, began to stray from the path of democracy and embrace the ethics of “illiberal democracy”. Probably, 2020 was a year in which he initiated many steps to dismantle the foundations of the rule of law, justice and finally the democratic institutions of the country. Freedom of speech and press freedom were severely compromised last year and the Covid-19, the global pandemic, gave him the right opportunity to announce a regime of terror in Hungary.

Last March, Orban’s government passed a special law, what critics have rightly called an “enabling law” that allows the prime minister to rule by decree for an indefinite period, purported to contain the Covid pandemic. -19 conveyed by Wuhan. Critics believe that Orban’s enabling law demolishes the few remaining references to democratic accountability in Hungary. This law emboldened him to demand absolute concentration of power over the flow of information about the pandemic and its management system in Hungary.

Given the upcoming parliamentary elections and the high underinvestment in the country’s public health system over the past decade, he was in desperate need of controlling the Covid-19 narrative across the country. Otherwise, the enraged opposition will prosecute him for ignoring basic services to Hungarians. Unlike any other European country, this new law allows Orban to punish a person up to five years in prison if they are found to be spreading false information about the virus.

Thus, a real sword hangs over both journalists and doctors as they attempt to fight the deadly disease at the cost of their lives.

Many Orban supporters are calling the whole thing a cacophony of misinformation from the country’s frustrated opposition. But that’s not the case because this deal is symptomatic of broader concerns about transparency and corruption that are ingrained in the current Hungarian government.

It was not until Orban came to power in 2010 that policymakers in Budapest had a new opportunity to initiate its famous “Eastern Opening” to cultivate stronger relations with China and Russia. . Even recently, Orban has drawn the ire of other EU countries by moving closer to the illiberal regime of Vladimir Putin.

Its main motive behind this new political framework was simply to attract investment, introduce economic opportunities and forge relationships with anti-democratic forces in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Not only that, but Budapest has also angered more allies in the democratic pantheon by preventing critical statements by the EU on China’s blatant human rights violation, especially in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet. .

With all this demagoguery, Xi thanked Orban for preserving all of China-Europe relations.

At present, Orban’s staunch rival and mayor of Budapest, Gregely Karacsony, has renamed the surrounding streets of future Fudan University in honor of victims of alleged human rights violations committed by China. lately.

According to the mayor’s plan, a street will be renamed after the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader who has been in political exile since 1958 in India and whom Beijing considers a dangerous separatist in all of its official political documents. Another road will be named “Uighur Martyrs Road”. These Uyghur Muslims are those minority ethnic groups who are victims of China’s genocide in its westernmost province of Xinjiang. A third street will be named “Free Hong Kong Road”, a Chinese island off the mainland that was once governed by the historic Basic Law agreed between Beijing and London following its surrender to the premiere on July 1. , 1997.

But unfortunately, today the Xi regime has distorted the basic principles of the original agreement and set aside the unique system of the principle of “one country, two systems” on the basis of which the island territory should have been ruled until. in 2047.

While a fourth street will be renamed in honor of an imprisoned Chinese Catholic bishop. This seems like an appropriate response to how Orban plans to push his country into Chinese diplomacy out of the debt trap.

At this point, it’s worth understanding what China’s international development model is. The Western model of international development is associated with governments, multilateral lenders and non-governmental organizations in rich countries that provide development assistance to poor countries. For China, however, development is not just about aid. Its international development narratives and political paradigms span a wide range of often state-backed businesses, from investing to lending. Therefore, China’s overseas commitments like Hungary’s hint at the country’s growing economic weight hidden behind a long debt trap.

Currently, Washington is out of its self-sabotaging trajectory with Donald Trump gone and Joe Biden seeking broad engagement with the international community. He has already indicated that he will not be gentle with China. His administration has recently declared that China is the “greatest geopolitical test” for the United States. Additionally, Biden’s recently concluded meetings with G-7 leaders and NATO allies make it clear that America will strengthen its partnership with Pacific and Atlantic countries to contain China. and Russia. And it will be useful in preventing China from encircling many parts of the world, including Hungary, from building its future empire accompanied by absolute aggression and opaque economic policies.

It is high time that the Hungarian opposition put an end to Beijing’s militarization of trade relations with its country. But the opposition groups and their supporters who are now making the Fudan University issue a rallying point should not falter once it calms down.

The current protests in Budapest are all about an attack on Orban’s democratic setback, his lack of transparency and his authoritarian policies. But Beijing’s economic expansion and ever-increasing greed are only a symptom of a bigger power game in Eastern Europe. Orban, a post-Soviet right-wing activist who demanded the withdrawal of imperialist troops from his soil in 1989, must recall what he and his Fidesz once stood for.

(Dr Makhan Saikia has taught political science and international relations for over a decade at nationally and internationally renowned institutions after specializing in globalization and governance from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. He is the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Global Studies, an international research journal)

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