Budapest has renamed the streets around the planned site of a major Chinese university campus to protest against an “unwanted” project imposed by the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
Four street signs at the site now bear the names Free Hong Kong Road, Uyghur Martyrs’ Road, Dalai Lama Road and Bishop Xie Shiguang Road, the last referring to a persecuted Chinese Catholic priest.
“We still hope that the project will not be carried out, but if it does, it will have to put up with these names,” said city mayor Gergely Karacsony at a joint press conference with district mayor Krisztina Baranyi.
Currently abandoned, the area will house Fudan University’s first European campus in a 500,000-square-meter (5 million-square-foot) complex by 2024, according to an agreement signed between Hungary and the president of the Shanghai-based university.
But the sprawling project has fueled growing concern over Hungary’s diplomatic tilt from west to east and its growing indebtedness to China.
Leaked internal documents revealed that China is expected to provide a loan of 1.3 billion euros ($ 1.6 billion) to cover most of the estimated costs of 1.5 billion euros.
“We don’t want Fudan’s elite and private university here at the expense of Hungarian taxpayers,” Karacsony said.
The liberal mayor has previously criticized Hungary’s “buying Chinese influence” and urged Orban to fulfill an earlier promise not to force projects into the capital against his will.
A city-wide “consultation” to probe public opinion on the project begins June 4, Baranyi said.
Opinion polls show that the majority of Budapest residents oppose the plan.
The government argues that a prestigious outpost of Fudan University would allow thousands of Hungarian, Chinese and other international students to acquire high-quality degrees.
It would also fit in with previously agreed plans to build a “Student City” dormitory project for thousands of mainly Hungarian students at the site, he says, although Karacsony said the Fudan campus would take over most of the area for that project. .
Fudan is the latest foreign policy milestone for Orban’s “Eastern Opening,” which analysts describe as a geopolitical balancing act.
Critics portray the nationalist prime minister as the “Trojan horse” of China and Russia within the European Union and NATO.
In May, Karacsony announced that he would run in the primary elections organized by an alliance of six opposition parties to select a rival for Orban in the general elections in early 2022.
Polls show that the opposition alliance has a narrow lead over Orban’s ruling right-wing Fidesz party, and that Karacsony is currently the most likely to win the primary in September.