The Hungarian-Chinese Chamber of Economy (ChinaCham Hungary) celebrates the 10th anniversary of its foundation this year. On this occasion, the President of the organization, Ernõ Petõ was interviewed for the recent China country focus section of Diplomacy & Trade.
“Europe needs China very much and China also needs Europe.” This observation by Ernõ Petõ, the President of the Hungarian-Chinese Chamber of Economy (ChinaCham Hungary) illustrates well the aims of the organization: to act as a point of connection between the two countries. Accordingly, the declared overall objective of ChinaCham Hungary is to cultivate the trading, economic and cultural relationships between Hungary and the People's Republic of China, as well as to promote the business interests of the members of the Chamber.
“I believe that since 2011, ChinaCham has done a lot to try to play an effective role towards helping the governmental organizations and companies of the two countries as well as Hungarian cities and counties and Chinese provinces to find the connections that are beneficial for both countries,” the President tells Diplomacy & Trade.
In the early 2000s, Ernõ Petõ was the Rotterdam Port Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and he had the feeling, based on experience, that the following decade would be about China. This instinct led him to joining ChinaCham in 2007. The following year, he was elected into the presidium and in 2010 as President.
“We are here to encourage Hungarian firms – no matter what the difference in size – to search for business opportunities with Chinese companies. It is also important that we support cultural events and civil ties between the two countries, e.g. the Hungarian-Chinese Bilingual Elementary School in Budapest and presence at in any event related to Hungarian-Chinese relations. In the past few years, ChinaCham has gone through such a development that we are indispensable in bilateral relations both in Hungary and China,” he adds.
As an example of helping the establishment of ties, Ernõ Petõ mentions that “for the second year now, we hold a business blub meeting every month with Hungarian and Chinese businesspeople invited who can provide the audience with practical information necessary for successful business deals. The lecturers are people in important positions and therefore worth meeting, not to speak of the fact that Hungarian companies might also find partners in each other and then jointly appear on the Chinese market.”
Hungary on the New Silk Road
As he explains, the flagship of the current Hungarian government’s ‘Eastern opening’ policy is undoubtedly China, in other words, the greatest opportunities are offered to Hungary by China. It is especially so because in 2013, China declared its ‘New Silk Road’ policy of economic opening towards Eurasia and Latin America. In Europe, one of the main expansion areas for increased Chinese economic activity is Central Europe where, as it was revealed this January, investments by the China Export Import Bank alone are to reach USD one billion. This past December, in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, the 4th round of prime ministerial talks between China and the region were held. There, the Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang stated very clearly what ideas his country has for economic cooperation with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. For Hungary, there are all sorts of opportunities. China’s largest investment in the region (Wanhua’s acquisition of Borsodchem) is in Hungary and it is also here that Huawei has a logistics center serving about 55 countries and another telecom company, ZTE, also appearing in this country. It was in Belgrade that an agreement was signed to build a new fast-track railway line between Belgrade and Budapest.
Hungary as a bridgehead
The Chinese policy of opening towards this region has resulted in a large number of visits by delegations from different Chinese provinces. For such delegations, ChinaCham often holds presentations about investment opportunities in Hungary. Ernõ Petõ notes that “economic relations will be greatly boosted by the Chinese plan to establish the Central European Commercial and Logistics Cooperation Zone in Hungary based on the model of the special economic zone formed in China from the 1980s, while Wanhua establishes an industrial park near its BorsodChem site.”
ChinaCham’s role is assisting companies in utilizing the development of relations between the two countries. “Our most important task is to point out to Hungarian ventures that it is possible – despite the huge geographical distance – to appear in China and strike a deal with Chinese ventures. It is not a simple task, though. In China, you cannot make business the European way. It requires a lot of preparation and understanding of a business culture built on thousands of years of traditions. Our role is to help bridge these cultures in the interest of successful cooperation. We would like to be a bridge, an interface that can help both Hungarian and Chinese ventures to eliminate the existing differences,” the ChinaCham President concludes.