With Hungary the prime investment destination for China in Central and Eastern Europe, relations between the two countries are at their best and enjoy great momentum and broad prospects, Duan Jielong, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to Hungary tells Diplomacy&Trade in an in-depth interview. China’s Road and Belt initiative, embraced by Hungary, provides additional venues for boosting economic cooperation.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic
of China and the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations
between China and Hungary. Hungary was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with China. “In the past 70 years, China-Hungary relations have stood the test of time,” Ambassador Duan Jielong says, adding that Hungary was among the first countries to lend “a helping hand” to China. “Hungary has greatly assisted in the exploration of the Songliao oil fields, the construction of the Broadcasting Station in Central China and even the development of Chinese football. Meanwhile, Hungary has fully supported the restoration of China’s legal
status in the United Nations,” the Ambassador says. Hungary and China regard each other as important strategic partners and relations between the two countries are developing with good momentum and broad prospects, Duan Jielong notes.
Shifting and speeding up
Under Viktor Orbán’s premiership, Hungary’s foreign and external trade policy experienced a marked shift toward countries in the East, among which China has a central role. The government’s stated objective has been to promote economic relations with former Soviet states and countries in Asia, fueled by Prime Minister Orbán’s often-stated position that global economic power is shifting eastward. “At present, China-Hungary relations have entered a new historical stage of ‘shifting
and speeding up’ with the level of economic and trade cooperation between China and Hungary continuously improving. China has been Hungary's largest trading partner outside Europe and Hungary is China's third largest trading partner in Central and Eastern Europe,” the Ambassador says.
According to Chinese statistics, the volume of bilateral trade reached USD 10.9 billion in 2018, exhibiting a year-on-year increase of 7.5%. Hungary is currently China's largest investment destination in Central and Eastern Europe with China's
cumulative investment in Hungary at nearly USD 4.5 billion, accounting for almost half of overall Chinese investments in the region. Ambassador Duan highlights that the Hungarian government actively welcomes Chinese companies in Hungary and a large number of powerful Chinese-funded enterprises, including the Bank of China, Wanhua Petrochemical (Yantai), Huawei, ZTE and BYD, have set up operations in Hungary, creating more than 15,000 jobs. Following Wanhua Industrial Group’s acquisition of BorsodChem in 2011, the Chinese company invested about USD 2.4 billion in its Hungarian operations through 2018. It is the largest investment by a Chinese enterprise in Central and Eastern Europe to date, providing more than 5,000 jobs and donating more than EUR 5 million in the areas of science, education, culture and charity in Hungary.
Belt and Road
Dubbed 'the most ambitious infrastructure effort in history', China’s Belt and Road initiative (BRI) aims to build connectivity and cooperation across six main economic corridors encompassing 152 countries worldwide. According to estimates by the Asian Development Bank, Asia alone needs USD 26 trillion in infrastructure investment through 2030 and China can help provide some of this.
Mutual benefit is a feature of the initiative, which will help to develop markets for China’s products in the long term and alleviate industrial excess capacity in the short term. Hungary was the first EU member state to join the BRI because – as Prime Minister Orbán said in 2017 in Beijing – “we had enough of the conventional form of globalization, which divided the world into two halves: teachers and students.” The Hungarian government’s policy of eastward opening “is highly compatible” with China’s Belt and Road Initiative,” the Ambassador notes. “The two sides should strengthen strategic docking, explore the potential of cooperation in the fields of economy, trade, investment, science and technology, agriculture and interconnection, and actively promote large cooperation projects such as the railway connecting Belgrade and Budapest.
China is willing to work with the Hungarian side to continuously promote the cooperation between China and Central and Eastern Europe and the development of China-EU relations,” according to the Ambassador. In June 2015, the two countries signed an intergovernmental Memorandum of Understanding on the BRI, which was the first BRI intergovernmental document. Prime Minister Orbán participated in the BRI Forums organized in China in 2017 and 2019. The cooperation between China and Hungary under the BRI “has created a stronger driving force for practical cooperation,” the Ambassador says, adding that China is looking forward to implementing the Budapest-Belgrade railway project “soon.”
In the next stage, inter-connectivity will be the priority in bilateral cooperation, focusing on the fields of finance, economy, trade, investment, education and culture, the Ambassador says.
In recent years, under the guidance of the BRI and the China-Central and Eastern European countries cooperation, the two sides have witnessed frequent exchanges of high-level visits, which increasingly strengthened the political mutual
trust, according to the Ambassador. From 2015 to 2019, Prime Minister Orbán attended the annual meetings of the Heads of Government of the China and Central and Eastern European countries cooperation. In May 2017, Prime Minister Orbán
attended the first Belt and Road Forum, and the leaders of the two countries have elevated China- Hungary relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership and brought bilateral relations to a new level. In November of the same year, Chinese
Premier Li Keqiang visited Hungary for the meeting of the Heads of Government of the China and Central and Eastern European Countries initiative.
The following year, Prime Minister Orbán attended the first Chinese International Import Expo and in April 2019, he attended the second 'Belt and Road' Forum. President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, respectively, met Prime Minister
Orbán and exchanged new ideas on the further development of China-Hungary relations. In May, Li Zhanshu, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, visited Hungary and in July, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Hungary and the two sides co-chaired the second China-Hungary Belt and Road working group meeting in Budapest. “I would like to point out that Chairman Li Zhanshu’s visit to Hungary is set to vigorously promote the development of bilateral relations and friendly exchanges between the two
parliaments and inject new impetus into cooperation in various fields,” the Ambassador notes, adding that these high-level visits have helped deepen the
traditional friendship between the two countries.
Tourism in focus
The EU remains an attractive destination for Chinese tourists and Hungary’s 25.1% growth in arrivals in 2018 puts the country in third place in terms of relative growth, according to data published by air travel analyst ForwardKeys in February. There were 260,000 Chinese tourists visiting Hungary last year and the Embassy expects their number to exceed 300,000 in 2019. “There is an old saying in China: ‘A country’s interaction depends on whether its people are friendly and open.’ Chinese people enjoy visiting Hungary to experience local culture and history. Currently, there are two direct flights between the two countries: China International Airlines opened its Beijing-Budapest service in 2015 while
China Eastern Airlines started operating its Shanghai-Budapest flight this year. I believe more direct flights will be opened in the near future, contributing to more convenient, faster and deeper people to people exchanges,” the Ambassador notes.
Several cultural happenings, including performances by Chinese literary and artistic groups, events related to Chinese cuisine and various exhibitions on Chinese culture, have been organized to mark the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations.
The Ambassador highlights that the ceremony of the Happy Spring Festival of Chinese culture held in Millennium Park in Budapest earlier this year has been widely and warmly welcomed by the Hungarian people. Through the cooperation
with the Hungarian Post Office, special stamps have been issued, such as the Year of the Pig stamp and the stamp commemorating the 70th year of the establishment of diplomatic relations. As proof of their popularity, these stamps are currently sold out.
Regarding the Chinese community living in Hungary, whose number some estimate to reach 20,000, the Ambassador says that “the vast number of overseas Chinese have interacted with the local community and integrated themselves harmoniously into Hungarian society.” The activities of the local Chinese community, be it the promotion of trade and investment, tourism, Chinese language, traditional medicine and Kung Fu, art shows and cultural exhibitions, have made tangible contributions to deepening bilateral relations, the Ambassador concludes.