China on Thursday blasted Hungarian politicians as “beneath contempt” after Budapest renamed streets over human rights flashpoints from Hong Kong to Tibet in protest against a planned branch of a top Chinese university.
The sprawling project for Fudan University’s first European campus has fed growing unease about Hungary’s diplomatic tilt from West to East and its soaring indebtedness to China.
The four street signs around the planned site now bear names referencing sore topics that draw Beijing criticism abroad for alleged human rights violations.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Thursday accused Hungarian politicians of “hyping up China-related issues and hindering China-Hungary cooperation.”
“Such behaviour is beneath contempt,” Wang told a regular press briefing.
The street names are “Free Hong Kong road”, “Uyghur Martyrs’ road”, “Dalai Lama road”, and “Bishop Xie Shiguang road” — named after a persecuted Chinese Catholic priest.
Wang’s rebuke followed a call by Chinese President Xi Jinping for his country to show a softer face abroad and cultivate a “reliable, admirable and respectable image.”
China’s foreign ministry routinely decries foreign politicians for not toeing Beijing’s line over issues from Taiwan to investigating the cause of the Covid-19 pandemic.
A currently derelict plot in Budapest is set to house the Fudan campus in a half-million-square-metre (five-million-square-foot) complex by 2024, according to a deal signed between Hungary and the Shanghai-based university’s president.
But Budapest’s mayor Gergely Karacsony said Wednesday that “we don’t want the elite and private Fudan university here at the expense of Hungarian taxpayers.”
The liberal mayor has previously blasted “Chinese influence-buying” in Hungary and urged Prime Minister Viktor Orban to honour a previous pledge not to force projects on the capital against its will.
Opinion polls show a majority of Budapest residents oppose the plan.
The government argues that a prestigious outpost of Fudan University, ranked 100th in the Shanghai Ranking, would permit thousands of Hungarian, Chinese and other international students to acquire high-quality diplomas.
Meanwhile, Beijing is keen to maintain its presence in Hungary, the only EU country to use Chinese coronavirus jabs.
Wang said relations between the two countries “enjoy a strong momentum development” and have “yielded fruitful results”.
China’s soft-power push abroad through media and education has come under fire in recent years, with critics in the West warning of Communist infiltration and pointing to Beijing’s human rights violations.
Confucius Institutes — organisations funded by China that offer Chinese language and culture classes — were targeted by the administration of former US president Donald Trump.
It called the institutes “an entity advancing Beijing’s global propaganda and malign influence campaign on US campuses.”