China’s plan to set up a university in the Hungarian capital of Budapest has met with strong opposition from locals and politicians. In protest, roads in the city have been renamed after communities and individuals who have been persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Back in 2017, the Hungarian National Bank entered into an agreement with Fudan University, with one aim being to establish a campus in the country. Considered one of the top universities in China, Fudan University has consistently ranked in the world’s top 100 universities in recent years. Located in Shanghai, it hosts 31,900 students and 2,700 academic staff.
In an online ceremony on April 27, Hungarian Innovation and Technology Minister Laszio Palkovics signed a deal with Fudan University President Xu Ningsheng. According to the deal, Hungary will provide land, buildings, and other facilities necessary to establish the campus. If the deal comes to fruition, Fudan University will become the first Chinese university to have a campus in Europe.
The campus is scheduled to open in 2024, and will have four faculties, including social studies, engineering, economics, and medicine. That approximately 6,000 to 8,000 students who matriculate will be staffed by 500 teachers. In addition, the university will engage in joint research projects with other European universities.
One major reason why the project has been criticized is because Hungary will incur massive debt with little return. According to documents obtained by Direkt36, the investments into the university will be the largest in Hungary’s higher education sector in recent decades.
The total construction cost is estimated to be €1.5 billion (about 1.82 billion dollars). The money will largely be financed by a Chinese loan, which will need to be repaid later. Moreover, the project will mostly source materials and labor from China.
Chinese contractors will likely avoid competition because the documents state, “the construction can only be carried out as a Chinese only project.” Essentially, Hungary will be funding an almost two billion dollar project by taking out a loan, and benefits will mostly be reaped by Chinese companies and workers rather than by Hungarian businesses.
In protest against the Fudan University project, Budapest’s liberal mayor, Gergely Karacsony, renamed four city roads in tribute to those who have suffered at the hands of the CCP. The roads are named “Free Hong Kong,” “Uyghur Martyrs,” “Bishop Xie Shiguang,” and “Dalai Lama.” The proposed Fudan University site will be surrounded by the four roads.
“The signs bear the names of the persons and people who have been persecuted by the Chinese Communist Party. This is… a stand for solidarity and freedom, which Hungary has been committed to for 30 years,” Karacsony said.
Karacsony is a member of the Dialogue for Hungary party. He plans to run against Orban in next year’s election. A poll by Budapest’s Republikon Institute showed that almost 66 percent of Hungarian citizens opposed the Fudan University project, DW reported.
Close ties with China
Hungarian Prime Minister Orban has been accused of currying favor with China by acting in line with the interests of the Chinese regime. In 2015, Hungary became the first European country to join China’s Belt and Road initiative.
In February 2021, Hungary became the first European nation to begin administering Sinopharm, a Chinese-made Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine, to its citizens. The vaccine had an efficacy rate of only 72.5 percent in its phase III clinical trials.
In an interview with public radio, Orban stated that he would personally choose the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine. “I’m waiting for the Chinese vaccine, I trust in that the most… I think the Chinese have known this virus for the longest, and they probably know it the best.”
In April this year, Hungary blocked an European Union (EU) statement criticizing China for its actions in Hong Kong. One senior diplomat revealed to Reuters that Hungary justified the move by saying the “EU already has too many issues with China.”
On April 29, Chinese leader Xi Jinping spoke with Orban on the phone. According to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Xi Jinping stressed that China highly appreciates Hungary for its firm adherence to a friendly policy towards China.”