Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Thursday said he would support holding a referendum to settle a row over his government’s plans to host a campus for a top Chinese university. About 10,000 people marched through Budapest on Saturday to protest the proposed sprawling Fudan University campus in the Hungarian capital, which is planned for completion by 2024 but now looks likely to be postponed. Budapest’s liberal mayor Gergely Karacsony and other city officials fiercely oppose the project which has fed unease about the European Union member’s diplomatic tilt from west to east, and have previously proposed a referendum on its fate. “There will be a referendum,” Orban told a press conference after his project director Laszlo Palkovics said in April there was “no plan B” to proceeding with the campus. Orban also accused the opposition of having politicised a “professional higher education” issue. “I don’t see any other solution (than holding a referendum) … I have my own strong arguments. I will gladly share them with people when the time comes, then there will be decisions, and we will accept the decision,” he said. Cabinet minister Gergely Gulyas told the press conference that final plans for the campus must be submitted to parliament by the end of 2022, after which a referendum can be held. Thousands march in Budapest against Hungary’s plan to build Chinese university campus According to a deal signed between Hungary and the Shanghai-based university’s president, the campus, Fudan’s first in Europe, would be a 500,000 square metre (5 million sq ft) complex. Internal documents leaked to the Hungarian media revealed that China is expected to give a € 1.3 billion (US$1.6 billion) loan to cover most of the estimated € 1.5 billion costs. Mayor Karacsony has long urged Orban not to force unwanted projects on the city, while a recent opinion poll showed that a majority of Budapest residents oppose the plan. Karacsony, who is eyeing a run against Orban at a general election next year, announced last week the renaming of streets around the proposed campus site to “Free Hong Kong Road”, “Dalai Lama Road”, and “Uygur Martyrs’ Road” to highlight Chinese human rights sore points. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson labelled the move as “beneath contempt” but added that it should not affect the project. Orban’s government argues that a prestigious outpost of Fudan University would permit thousands of Hungarian and international students to acquire high-quality qualifications. But critics say the courting of Fudan, which deleted references to “freedom of thought” from its charter in 2019, also fuels concerns about academic freedom in Hungary. In 2018, the Central European University, founded by liberal Hungarian-born US billionaire George Soros, said it was “forced out” of Budapest to Vienna after a bitter legal dispute with Orban.