The West is becoming increasingly more concerned about the attempts of communist China to expand its global network of influence. Still, there are also several democratic states that are willing to closely cooperate with Beijing.
Three years ago, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government forced the prestigious Budapest-based Central European University to be closed, because the founder of the university Hungarian-born American billionaire George Soros criticized Orban’s course of “unliberal democracy”.
Now, the Hungarian government is rapidly pressing ahead with its plan to open a Chinese university campus in Budapest, which will be the first Chinese higher education institution in the EU. The university in question is the Chinese Fudan University, which is one of China’s top schools that has recently been able to enter several global top 100 university lists.
If this happens, it will be a tremendous achievement for China, as not so long ago it itself was importing foreign universities. Now, Beijing will export a Chinese university campus to a member of the EU. This is significant because it will show the world that China is prospering.
The campus will be built by 2024 in an abandoned industrial area in the center of Budapest and able to accommodate 6,000 students from Hungary, China and other countries. The Hungarian government believes that this will improve the country’s higher education standards and attract Chinese investments and academics.
Secret documents recently leaked to Hungarian media outlets show that the 26-hectare campus will cost 1.8 billion dollars (1.5 billion euros), which is more than Hungary spent on higher education in 2019.
The Hungarian government will cover 20% of the costs from the state budget, while the remaining 1.5 billion dollars (1.2 billion euros) will be taken through loans from Chinese banks. According to the documents, the work will be done using Chinese-produced materials and Chinese construction workers.
Hungary’s top politicians are not concerned by the fact that in 2018 the Fudan University revoked the principle of academic freedom from its governing charter, which now stipulates that the university is loyal to the Chinese Communist Party.
Mayor of Budapest Gergely Karacsony doesn’t support the opening of the Fudan University campus in Hungary.
“I don’t understand why Hungary or Budapest should accept a Chinese university if not so long ago the Central European University – which offered open education and was privately funded – was forced out of the country. Now, the government wants to open a university that represents the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party and will cost billions in Hungarian taxpayer money,” Karacsony told the TV channel Euronews.
In recent years, China has engaged in active cooperation with Hungary and other Eastern European countries.
Hungary is the only EU member that has approved the use of the Chinese-produced Covid-19 vaccine Sinopharm, and it is the location of the largest Huawei logistics center outside of China.
Last year, the Hungarian government agreed to borrow 2 billion dollars (1.6 billion euros) from a Chinese state-owned bank to construct a railway connecting Budapest and the capital of Serbia Belgrade. This railway will be a part of China’s global Belt and Road Initiative.
The expansion of the Fudan University to Hungary is part of Beijing’s attempts to influence foreign opinion on China. Hungarians opposing the project are concerned that the Chinese government may use the Fudan University to engage in espionage in Europe. Hungary’s allies are also worried about the close relations between Budapest and Beijing.
Last week, German Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas called Hungary’s decision to block an EU statement accusing Beijing of cracking down on democracy in Hong Kong “absolutely incomprehensible”.
Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Budapest announced that Washington is cautious about the opening of the Fudan University campus in Hungary “as Beijing has a proven track record of using its higher-education institutions to gain influence and stifle intellectual freedom”.