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Thousands of protesters marched in Budapest on June 5 to oppose the planned satellite campus for China’s Fudan University. Photo: AP

Hungary approves land donation for controversial Chinese university

  • Lawmakers vote overwhelmingly to give planned Fudan campus four state-owned plots earmarked for local student housing
  • The project has attracted fierce opposition from Budapest’s mayor who wants a referendum on the issue before elections in April
Hungarian lawmakers voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to donate state-owned land on the banks of the Danube River to a planned Chinese university in Budapest.

The proposed satellite campus of Shanghai-based Fudan University has attracted opposition criticism and sparked a recent protest accusing the government of cosying up to Beijing.

Budapest renames streets after Hong Kong, Dalai Lama to protest nearby site for China’s Fudan University

Opponents of nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban fear the US$2 billion campus could undermine the quality of higher education and help Beijing increase its influence in Hungary and the European Union.

Orban’s government argues the school could help attract new research and development centres, as well as investments to Hungary, a central European country of 10 million people, which relies heavily on foreign investment to drive economic growth.

The parliament approved the donation of four plots of land to a foundation in charge of the planned campus, displacing a planned local student housing area. The law says the government must present the project’s final plans, including costs, to parliament by the end of 2022, after the April election. The issue would then be put to a referendum, Orban said last week.

However, Budapest mayor Gergely Karacsony, who is vying to become Orban’s opposition challenger next year, is seeking a referendum on the campus before the election.

“The citizens of Budapest have had their say about the government’s plans: 96 per cent do not want a Chinese communist university in place of the (local student housing area),” Karacsony said in a Facebook post on Monday.


Thousands march in Budapest against plan to build campus for China’s Fudan University

Thousands march in Budapest against plan to build campus for China’s Fudan University

Last week Orban – who forced the liberal Central European University, founded by financier George Soros, to move to Vienna in 2019 – dismissed criticism that the campus would help Beijing increase its influence in Hungary.

“All such countries, including China or Vietnam, kick off each international meeting by assuring us that they are only seeking pragmatic cooperation and do not want to enforce their ideological stance on us,” Orban told a news conference.

Orban’s liberal opponents accuse him of cosying up to China, Russia and other illiberal governments, while angering European allies by curbing the independence of the judiciary and media.