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Xi lands in Hungary as EU security rift deepens

Xi lands in Hungary as EU security rift deepens


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Insights from Central European Institute of Asian Studies, Növekedés, and Royal United Services Institute

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Chinese leader Xi Jinping arrived in Budapest on Wednesday, the final stop of his week-long visit to Europe that many experts consider a strategic play to deepen ideological rifts in the European Union.

Xi’s first stop in France was met with a little resistance from French President Emmanuel Macron and EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, who both pressed him on China’s cheap green technology and its effect on European competition. The pair also grilled Xi on Beijing’s continued support for Russia in its war in Ukraine. But experts agreed the invitation to France signals the EU is not prepared to completely cut ties with Beijing.

Xi could be a little more forward during his stopovers in Serbia and Hungary — both are NATO-skeptical countries that favor stronger ties with China. The show of support for eastern Europe could further split the fragile bloc on security and economic policy — to Beijing’s (and Russia’s) benefit.




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Hungarians’ views about China are complicated

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Sources:  Central European Institute of Asian Studies, Növekedés, Századvég, Telex

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán remains China’s chief EU ally, but his people have more nuanced views. A 2020 study found that the majority of Hungarians — including Orbán supporters — had a poor view of China, particularly in light of the country’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. But a more recent 2022 study found the negative sentiment is decreasing as China invests in Hungary’s economy. A 2023 study by the conservative ​​Századvég think tank found 79% of Hungarians oppose more trade restrictions with China, but 50% of Hungarians are also opposed to Chinese EV battery factories being built there for environmental reasons, according to Telex news site, showing the affection isn’t entirely limitless.

Xi’s visit to NATO-skeptic country could further splinter EU

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Sources:  Politika, Royal United Services Institute

In a Serbian newspaper op-ed, Xi said that Serbia and China were “forged with blood” after the 1995 NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, which killed three journalists. The fact that Xi immediately lashed out at NATO after his more sanguine visit to France is “like playing Jekyll and Hyde,” wrote China-watcher Sari Arho Havrén of the RUSI security think tank. But Xi can’t play both NATO-friendly and anti-NATO roles, she argued. As Xi reveals his true anti-NATO colors in Serbia and Hungary, his Paris visit may ultimately do little to influence the EU’s general security position and push it closer to the US, she argued. But that might be Xi’s goal: forcing a wedge in the EU between western NATO-friendly and NATO-skeptic countries to the east, the Financial Times wrote.

Beijing exerts a chilling influence over Hungary’s press freedoms

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Sources:  Xinhua, Semafor, Reporter without Borders

Ahead of Xi’s arrival in Budapest, Chinese state newswire Xinhua and Hungary’s economy ministry reached an agreement for Xinhua to “continue collaborating with Hungarian media outlets” to promote the countries’ bilateral ties. The deal is the latest in Beijing’s long-running influence campaign in Hungary. Earlier this year, Budapest announced Chinese police officers would patrol Hungarian cities with lots of Chinese expats and tourists — potentially chilling any oppositional activity. Meanwhile, press freedoms in Hungary have been deteriorating since Orbán’s ascension to power, while propaganda has proliferated: Hungary recently passed a law requiring news outlets with foreign funding to disclose it and register as foreign agents, mirroring Russia’s restrictive media laws.

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