On April 30 Li Kequiang, first deputy prime minister of China, arrived in Budapest for a two-day official visit. As diplomatic protocol dictates, he was greeted by his Hungarian counterpart, Tibor Navracsics, deputy prime minister. Navracsics was accompanied by László Kövér, interim president of Hungary.
China does everything on a grand scale. Li arrived with a 200-member business group who are allegedly interested in striking deals with Hungary. Just as Viktor Orbán said in Warsaw a few days ago, his government's hard work to convince China to view Hungary as an economic partner is yielding results. At the airport Li Kequiang delivered a speech suitable for the occasion. He reminded his audience that Hungary was among the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with "the new China." (What a surprise: communist China was established on October 1, 1949.) Li also stressed that Hungary could function as an intermediary between China and the European Union, something I find ironic in light of Hungary's strained relations with the EU.
The Chinese deputy prime minister met Viktor Orbán on May 1 when the Hungarian prime minister, not for the first time, talked about a "strategic alliance" between the two countries. This time even in the name of China when he announced that "Hungary and China consider each other strategic allies." I don't know what Li Kequiang thought of this because the Chinese politician in his speech at the airport simply talked about "the friendship between the two countries" and about "the deepening bilateral economic cooperation."
Orbán emphasized that "given the strong wind that exists in the economic sphere we shouldn't be standing on one foot if we have two." That certainly makes sense economically, but talking about "political friends, political alliances" is a potentially dangerous game to play with a communist country. Democratic western nations, including the United States, might find the newly found love affair with China a bit worrisome.
So, let's see what Orbán managed to get from the Chinese. Li and Orbán signed seven cooperative deals yesterday. Of the four most important, China's leading information and communication provider, Huawei Technologies, agreed to set up its European logistics center in Hungary. How many people the center will employ in Hungary is difficult to determine. The communiqué talks about 7,000 employees throughout Europe. Second, ZTE Corporation, a telecom infrastructure producer, signed an agreement worth 10 million euros with the Hungarian government to set up an operating maintenance center. Again, this company would target consumers across Europe. The establishment of this center would mean about 400 jobs in Hungary. Third, China's Investment Bank signed an agreement with the Magyar Fejlesztési Bank (Hungarian Investment Bank) providing Hungary with a loan amounting to 1 billion euros. Apparently more money will be available if Hungary uses this amount profitably. Fourth, the China Civil Engineering Construction Corp. signed a memorandum worth another 1 billion euros with MÁV (Hungarian State Railways) to build a 20 kilometer rail express linking the Franz Liszt Airport to downtown Budapest.
The Chinese don't seem to trust the Hungarians very much when it comes to the loan because they are leaving an expert behind "who will assist and supervise the destination of the loans" handled by the state-owned Hungarian Investment Bank. It is hard to know at the moment who will receive money from the Chinese loan. Part of it will help Chinese companies already in Hungary. Some might go to the expansion of Hungarian businesses that are working for Chinese owned companies. A smaller share of the money might be allocated for the expansion of Hungarian small- and medium-size businesses. By the way, I find it interesting that the Hungarian government doesn't seem to object to a Chinese overseer of a fairly small loan while it wants to avoid any IMF interference, even for 20 billion euros.
While Viktor Orbán was gushing over his new political ally, the Hungarian police rounded up five people who, to show their dissatisfaction with the Hungarian government's disregard of the ruling of the European Court of Human Rights about the five-pointed red star, wore the banned symbol. I wrote about this case a few days ago. While the flags of communist China were being prominently displayed, the people caught wearing red stars were kept in jail for six hours.
These symbols of communist rule didn't seem to bother Viktor Orbán
Zsolt Nyári, the spokesman for the Hungarian Green Left party, was arrested yesterday afternoon at the May 1 celebrations held in Városliget. Soon enough the police rounded up Attila Vajnai, chairman of the Workers Party 2006, a more moderate splinter group of the communist party in Hungary. Vajnai already had an encounter with the Hungarian justice system over the red star. His case ended up in the European Court of Justice. The third man was Attila Trasciatti, managing chairman of the Green Left party. Two women, Krisztina Noé and Judit Róna, members of the same party, joined them. Their cases will be prosecuted in due course.
I should mention here that the far left is not really a threat to Hungarian democracy. They seem to be few in number and pretty harmless. They strike me as idealistic people who still believe in some kind of democratic socialism. None of these people or parties as far as I can ascertain wants to destroy the present regime by force. But it is a crime to display symbols of dictatorship and the red star is one of those.
So, it seems, there will be another red star case before the European Court. The third time around.
All the while the red flags of Viktor Orbán's political and strategic ally, replete with their five-pointed stars, were blowing in the east wind.