Viktor Orban’s landslide re-election paves way for even closer Hungary-China ties
- In congratulatory call to his Hungarian counterpart, Chinese foreign minister stresses the importance of the nations’ relationship
- ‘Given the tense relationship between China and the EU, China needs Hungary more than ever before,’ notes an analyst in Budapest
China congratulated Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on his electoral victory on Monday, after the self-styled “illiberal” leader swept to a super majority that will allow him to rapidly expand ties with Beijing.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi made the first post-election phone call, his Hungarian counterpart Peter Szijjarto was quoted as saying by a Chinese government statement, highlighting the importance of the relationship to Beijing.
The landslide victory came just two days after the most highly charged EU-China summit in history, where EU leaders pressed Chinese President Xi Jinping on his support for Russia.
By contrast on Monday, Szijjarto told Wang that “Hungary firmly supports EU-China friendship and will continue to play a constructive role in the development of EU-China relations with a respectful and pragmatic attitude.”
Tamas Matura, an assistant professor covering Hungarian-Chinese relations at Corvinus University of Budapest, said: “Given the tense relationship between China and the EU, China needs Hungary more than ever before. China has been losing friends here in Eastern Europe. So the friendship of Mr. Orban seems to be growing in importance.”
China’s closest ally in the EU, Orban has capitalised on the bloc’s requirement for unanimity in crafting foreign policy to block numerous resolutions targeting Beijing and Hong Kong.
Last year, for instance, Hungary vetoed a move that would have seen EU members cancel their extradition treaties with China over the crackdown on political opponents in Hong Kong. Budapest also approved the use of Chinese vaccines last year, even before they had been accepted by the European Medicines Agency
Orban has said that China will soon overtake the United States as the world’s dominant economic and military power, and that Hungary should position itself accordingly.
“America is in decline, while China is getting stronger. Hungary, with 10 million, has to manoeuvre skilfully in such a period,” Orban said last month in an interview with the Hungarian magazine Mandiner.
“We are in an alliance with the West, but we also want to build an advantageous relationship with the emerging new superpower.”
Orban easily defeated an opponent who failed to win even in the district he served as mayor, sealing a super majority in the Hungarian parliament.
And in a move that will further isolate him from other EU states, Orban described Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky as an “opponent” in his victory speech that also took swipes at Brussels.
“If he is going to unleash this sort of illiberal democracy on steroids, he is not going to be very popular within the EU,” said Matej Simalcik, executive director of the Central European Institute of Asian Studies in Slovakia.
“There is already a lot of discussion about freezing funding for countries that are not following rule of law principles, with Hungary a target. This can of course make Hungary closer to China as an alternative source of finance.”
Peter Kreko, director of the Budapest-based Political Capital Institute, expected plans for a Fudan University campus in the Hungarian capital – funded by expensive Chinese loans – to go ahead, despite protests that brought thousands to the streets last year. “After this huge victory, Orban can do whatever he wants practically without any restraints,” Kreko said.
A further geopolitical lift for Beijing came in Serbia where another close ally, Aleksandar Vucic, was poised to secure another term as president after Sunday’s voting.
“I would say that this moment in time, Serbia and Hungary are China’s two most sincere and most enthusiastic partners [in Europe],” said Vuk Vuksanovic, an associate specialising in Serbian geopolitics at IDEAS, the London School of Economics’ foreign policy think tank.
“So the fact that Vucic and Orban were re-elected, it was good news for Beijing when we are seeing a lot of uneasiness regarding Europe and China.”
Serbia’s close ties with Russia have also come in for scrutiny in recent weeks. The Balkan power is not an EU member, but is a candidate state.
Belgrade has not officially condemned the invasion of Ukraine, although it did support a United Nations motion condemning the war. Nor has it joined Western-led sanctions against Moscow.
Any cooling in ties with Russia is likely to blow open the floodgates to more political and economic cooperation with China, which is broadly viewed positively in Serbia, and which has been looking to use the regional power to gain a foothold in the Balkan region.
“If Serbia decides in any shape or form to distance itself from Russia because of what is happening in Ukraine, that will open up space for other foreign actors to jump in,” said Stefan Vladisavljev, a China specialist at the Belgrade Security Forum.
“And we have seen in the past decade that China was more than capable in filling any empty space.”