China's Xi Arrives In Hungary For Talks On Expanding Chinese Investments

A Chinese national flag with the Buda Castle in the background waves in Budapest, Hungary, Wednesday, May 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Denes Erdos)
A Chinese national flag with the Buda Castle in the background waves in Budapest, Hungary, Wednesday, May 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Denes Erdos)
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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Hungary late Wednesday, the final stop on his five-day European tour, where he's expected to finalize a number of agreements with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán that will deepen China's economic footprint in the region.

Xi is set to spend two nights in the Hungarian capital Budapest where he will meet with Orbán and Hungarian President Tamás Sulyok. Talks will center on future Chinese investments in the Central European country, which has courted deep economic ties with Beijing even as mainstream European leaders have pursued more protectionist policies to limit its reach on the continent.

Orbán, a nationalist populist whose illiberal policies have pushed him to the fringes of the European Union, made his country the first in the 27-member bloc to participate in Xi’s signature Belt and Road Initiative. Hungary has straddled a middle ground between its membership in the EU and NATO and a willingness to establish diplomatic and trade relationships with autocratic governments outside those groupings.

Hungary’s foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, told a news conference on Monday that Xi and Hungarian officials would sign at least 16 bilateral agreements during the visit, Xi’s first to the country as president.

Szijjártó called the visit “historic,” and pointed out that China had provided more foreign investment to Hungary than any other country in 2023. He added that some of the agreements to be signed would involve expansion of Belt and Road in Hungary, and could include investments in infrastructure and energy.

Xi’s arrival in Budapest came after a two-day visit to Serbia’s capital Belgrade, where he signed an agreement on building a “shared future” with the Balkan country which, like Hungary, is considered friendly to Russia's Vladimir Putin.

China has claimed neutrality in the Ukraine conflict, but has refused to call the Russian assault an invasion and has been accused of bolstering Russia’s military capacity. Hungary has condemned the Russian invasion but threatened to block EU sanctions against Moscow and refused to provide Kyiv with military support.

Xi and Orbán are likely to discuss the war in Ukraine, Hungary's neighbor to the east. Hungary’s government has vocally urged China to take a leading role in brokering peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, and expressed its support for a China-proposed peace plan.

Before Xi's arrival on Wednesday, a number of demonstrators gathered in central Budapest to protest his visit and call for autonomy for Tibet, which lies under Chinese control.

Tibor Hendrey, a representative for the Tibet Aid Society, said that doing business with China is important for Hungary's economy, but highlighted the dangers of a relationship with a country with a spotty democratic and human rights records.

“We need a good relationship with a great empire, that's not a problem. The problem is that China has a completely different culture, a completely different approach to human rights," Hendrey said. "I feel that they want to export this kind of thinking here to Hungary, and that the Hungarian government is willing to accept that.”