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The West is increasingly concerned about attempts by Communist China to expand its global network of influence. Yet there are also several democratic states that are ready to cooperate closely with Beijing, writes Juris Paiders.
Three years ago, the government of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban forced the closure of the prestigious central European university based in Budapest, because the founder of the university, the American billionaire of Hungarian origin George Soros, criticized Orban’s journey of “non-liberal democracy”.
Today, the Hungarian government is moving fast forward 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 Chinese Fudan University, which is one of the top schools in China and has recently been able to feature in several lists of the world’s top 100 universities.
If that happens, it will be a tremendous achievement for China, as not so long ago it imported from foreign universities itself. From now on, Beijing will export a Chinese university campus to an EU member. This is important because it will show the world that China is prospering.
The campus will be built by 2024 in an abandoned industrial area in central Budapest and will be able to accommodate 6,000 students from Hungary, China and other countries. The Hungarian government believes this will improve the country’s higher education standards and attract Chinese investment and academics.
Secret documents recently leaked to Hungarian media show that the 26-hectare campus will cost 1.8 billion euros (1.5 billion euros), more than what 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 (€ 1.2 billion) will be taken from loans from Chinese banks. According to the documents, the work will be carried out using materials made in China and Chinese construction workers.
Senior Hungarian politicians are not concerned that in 2018 Fudan University revoked the principle of academic freedom from its governance charter, which now states that the university is loyal to the Chinese Communist Party.
Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony does not 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 to leave the country. Now the government wants to open a university that represents the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party and will cost Hungarian taxpayers billions of dollars, ”Karacsony told the TV station. Euronews.
In recent years, China has engaged in active cooperation with Hungary and other countries in Eastern Europe.
Hungary is the only EU member to have approved the use of the Covid-19 vaccine produced in China Sinopharm, and this is the location of the largest Huawei logistics center outside of China.
Last year, the Hungarian government agreed to borrow $ 2 billion (1.6 billion euros) from a Chinese public bank to build a railway connecting Budapest and the capital of Serbia, Belgrade. This railway will be part of China’s Belt and Road Global Initiative.
The expansion of Fudan University in Hungary is part of Beijing’s attempts to influence foreign opinion on China. Hungarians opposed to the project fear that the Chinese government is using Fudan University to spy in Europe. Hungarian allies are also concerned about the close relations between Budapest and Beijing.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas last week called Hungary’s decision to block an EU statement accusing Beijing of cracking down on democracy in Hong Kong “absolutely incomprehensible”.
Meanwhile, the United States Embassy in Budapest announced that Washington was cautious about opening the Fudan University campus in Hungary “because Beijing has a proven track record in using its educational institutions. superior to gain influence and stifle intellectual freedom ”.
All opinions expressed in the above article are those of the author alone and do not reflect any opinion on the part of EU journalist.