“The Chinese people have very friendly and pleasant impressions of Hungary." That is according to the Chinese Ambassador to Hungary, XIAO Qian, who gave a comprehensive interview to the recent China Country Focus of Diplomacy & Trade.
“With an agreement signed in October 1949, Hungary was among the first countries to establish a diplomatic relationship with the Peoples’ Republic of China. On the basis of mutual respect, equal treatment, mutual benefit and win-win, the bilateral relations have been greatly promoted during the past 65 years; they have withstood the test of fluctuating international situations, and now show vigorous vitality in the new era,” the Chinese Ambassador points out.
The Chinese people have very friendly and pleasant impressions of Hungary. We learn from books of history, science and literature that Hungarians are a great people and Hungary is a great nation,” the Ambassadorsays, citing innovation as a good example. “From the safety match to the ballpoint pen, the computer and Rubik’s cube, so many things were invented by Hungarians, even Vitamin C was discovered by a Hungarian scientist. These inventors are just a few of the Hungarians who have contributed to human civilization - and I must say this country’s contribution to human civilization and history goes far beyond the size of its territory and population. As your old saying goes, ‘Kicsi a bors, de erõs’ (‘little but strong’) and Hungary deserves this reputation.”
Stronger and stronger friendship
Although the bilateral relations have been amicable for many decades, the Ambassador says the ‘Friendly and Cooperative Partnership’, established between China and Hungary in 2004, brought about a new phase. “As a result, communication and cooperation are continuously expanding and deepening in all fields and all levels between the two countries, the friendship becomes stronger and stronger, and the relations between the two peoples are closer and closer day by day. Currently, bilateral relations are better than at any time in history.”
He adds that at present, the Hungarian government is pursuing its “Open to the East’ policy, while the Chinese government is carrying out the “One Belt, One Road’ Strategy (‘New Silk Road Economic Belt’ and ‘21st Century Maritime Silk Road’). Both countries are committed to deepen reforms, and work hard to achieve the great rejuvenation of our nations. “The diplomatic strategies of the two countries meet each other halfway, and the bilateral relations are faced with unprecedented development opportunities, as well as brighter and broader prospects.’
According to Ambassador Xiao, high-level exchanges between the leaders of China and Hungary are frequent and active, and the political mutual trust between the two countries is continuously deepening. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán paid an official visit to China last February, and Péter Szijjártó, the new Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, visited China last October. During the past two years, PM Orbán and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang have both attended two summits of heads of governments of China and the Central and Eastern European countries (CEEC) and also held separate talks there. The exchanges between officials from different departments and levels of the two countries are closer and closer, too. The Hungarian government opened a new Consulate-General in Chongqing, and reopened the Consulate-Generals in Shanghai and Hong Kong.
Hungarian trade surplus
As for economic relations, the Ambassador is of the view that the pragmatic cooperation in this field between China and Hungary is substantially expanding and yielding outstanding achievements. China has become the largest trade partner of Hungary outside Europe, while Hungary is the third largest trade partner and the largest investment target country of China in Central and Eastern Europe. The bilateral trade has been increasing despite the negative effects of the global financial crisis in recent years. According to Chinese statistics, the bilateral trade volume increased from USD 6.81 billion in 2009 to USD 8.41 billion in 2013, reached USD 8.272 billion from January to November of last year (that is, increased by 6.44% compared with the same period of 2013), and is expected to have surpassed USD 8.5 billion in 2014. Moreover, from January to November last year, the export from Hungary to China increased by 19.79%, while the trade surplus of Hungary to China reached USD 2.35 billion. The first Hungarian frozen pork shipment arrived in China on January 23, 2015 through Tianjin port, and duck, goose and rabbit meats will also be exported to China soon. What’s more, a protocol about the export of Hungarian beef to China has also been signed recently.
The overall investment from China to Hungary has reached nearly USD 3 billion, creating over 5,000 jobs. Many big Chinese companies are actively expanding their investment here. For example, Wanhua Chemical Group Co. Ltd. has invested EUR 1.26 billion (USD 1.43 bn) to purchase BorsodChem, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. set up its European supply center and logistics center in Hungary, another telecom firm, ZTE, established its European network maintenance center in Hungary while the Bank of China set up in Budapest a branch as its CEE regional business center. Moreover, two Chinese companies invested USD 300 million to build two citric acid plants in eastern Hungary.
Breakthroughs have also been witnessed in the financial cooperation of the two countries. The two central banks have already signed a bilateral currency swap agreement worth RMB (Yuan) 10 billion or USD 1.6 bn. The commercial banks of the two sides signed an agreement for loans for airplane rental with an amount of USD 546 million and a credit line agreement with an amount of EUR 300 million (USD 340 mn). In addition, the Central Bank of Hungary is highly likely to get permission to invest in the Chinese interbank bond market.
Cultural and people-to-people exchanges
“A lot of memorable activities in bilateral cultural and people-to-people exchanges have been organized in recent years, which helps to lay a solid foundation for the further development of bilateral relations in general,” Ambassador Xiao says. The two countries signed an agreement establishing culture centers in each other’s capital. The Hungarian Culture Center in Beijing is already under operation now, and the set-up of a Chinese Center in Hungary is well under way. Besides, China has set up the first Chinese teacher training center abroad (Chinese Language Teacher Training Center of Central and Eastern Europe) in Hungary, three Confucius institutes (at ELTE in Budapest, at the University of Szeged and at the University of Miskolc), and is preparing to set up a fourth institute at the University of Pécs.
The Hungarian Government has declared that 200 scholarships will be offered to Chinese students in Hungary each year, and the Chinese Government has doubled its scholarships for Hungarian students in China (that is, 45 scholarships each year). The two countries also took advantage of the 65th anniversary of the establishment of China-Hungary diplomatic ties to hold a series of celebration activities, such as the publishing of the photo album Splendid China - Splendid Hungary, the photo exhibition under the same name, and the re-publishing of the Hungarian version of the Book of Songs.
The 2nd General Meeting of the Sister Cities between China and Hungary was successfully held in Budapest in 2013, which greatly promoted the local exchanges between the two countries. Both sides also have been maintaining close mutual visits and exchanges between the younger generations of the two countries in recent years, in an effort to cultivate the future goodwill powers of China-Hungary relations. These relations are also cherished by people who still remember Hungarian assistance to china in the 1950s and 60s.
According to the ambassador, the Chinese government regards Hungary as a very important country of the CEE region. Hungary, as a founding member of the China-CEEC cooperation, plays a critical and leading role in the cooperation, such as announcing a contribution of 30 million USD to the China-CEEC Investment Cooperation Foundation, taking the lead in founding the China-CEEC Tourism Coordination Center, and positively promoting the construction of the Budapest-Belgrade railway project. Among these, Budapest-Belgrade railway project, announced in November, 2013 by the Chinese Premier and the Prime Ministers of Hungary and Serbia, is the very first big infrastructure construction project in the framework of the China-CEEC Cooperation.
In 2013, the Chinese government put forward the important strategic concept of ’One Belt, One Road’, aimed at constantly improving the friendly and pragmatic cooperation between China and the countries along the two silk roads. The destination of ‘One Belt, One Road’ lies in Europe, while Hungary and other European countries will be important participants and partners of China in the project. At the Belgrade summit last year, the Heads of Government of China-CEEC, Chinese Premier and the Prime Ministers of Hungary, Serbia and Macedonia agreed on building the China-Europe Land-Sea Express Route, which will link the Greek port of Piraeus to the interior of Europe, by way of Budapest-Belgrade railway. After the construction, the express route will be a critical link of “One belt, One road’, facilitating – and speeding up – the shipments of goods from China to Western Europe by sea and then rail.
The Chinese community in Hungary
There are over 20,000 Chinese living in Hungary and they act as a bridge and tie for the friendship and cooperation between China and Hungary. The Ambassador notes that over decades, through their persistent hard work, these people have not only successfully integrated into the local society and achieved developments in their careers and businesses, but also created lots of jobs and promoted the economic development of Hungary. “Sticking to the traditional Chinese virtues of credibility, integrity, unity, law-abidance, etc., they live in harmony with the local people, positively participate in social charities, actively sponsor Special Olympics and other sports events, enthusiastically help the old, the young, the sick, the disabled and other disadvantaged groups, and build up a good image of kindness, unity, honesty and public-spirit. With familiarity of the situations of both China and Hungary, they have positively promoted and introduced the cultures of the two countries to each other, helped the peoples of the two countries to deepen their mutual understanding, played the role of a bridge between Chinese and Hungarian companies and made great contributions to the cooperation and communication in all fields between China and Hungary.”
The Chinese embassy in Hungary pays much attention to the conditions and development of overseas Chinese, focuses on the protection of their legitimate rights and interests, and is dedicated to encouraging them to integrate into the local community, live in harmony with local people, foster a good image of Chinese people, promote the friendship between Chinese and Hungarian peoples and make contributions to the economic and social development of Hungary.
“Before posted in Hungary, I had some preliminary but very nice impressions of this country, as most Chinese people have. The poem of ‘Freedom and Love’ by Sándor Petõfi, ‘Hungarian Rhapsody’ by composer Ferenc Liszt, and Hungarian movies like ‘Goose Boy’ and ‘Waste of Revenge’, etc., are widely known in China. Also, since the ancestors of the Hungarian people came from the east, perhaps even from areas close to China, peoples from two countries share some kind of natural ‘closeness’,” the Ambassador points out. As a peculiar example, he mentions that a Chinese movie star was actually so impressed with the Hungarian capital that he named his son, who was born during his trip here, ‘Buda’ and a second son – a couple of years later – ‘Pest’.
He adds that “after more than two years as Chinese Ambassador to Hungary, the more I know about this country and her people, the more my love for her grows. Personally speaking, I’m very satisfied with my work and life in Hungary. This country has beautiful landscapes, long history, and extraordinary culture. Such magnificent sceneries as Lake Balaton and world cultural heritage sites along the bank of Danube river in Budapest, such beautiful and fiery dances as Csárdás dance and Herdmen’s dance, such moving modern artistic performances as the shadow dances by Attractive dance group, and such delicious food as goulash, fish soup and goose liver, are extremely fascinating and impressive. Besides, Hungary is one of the most livable countries in the world, with stable society, prosperous economy and warm and kind people – it embraces a bright future.”