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Bull in a China shop

June 30th, 2011

Few question the advantages of the bilateral agreements signed by PM Viktor Orbán and his counterpart Wen Jiabao on June 25 in Budapest, especially in the mainstream press.  Many popular bloggers, however, even on the right of the political spectrum, argue that the government went too far in its courtesy towards the Asian giant.

We need China’s help, and any investment in Hungary is welcome, but do we really have to bow so low to those big lords from the Far East?”, asks Gellért Rajcsányi in the right-wing Mandiner blog, in an angry reaction to moves by police to prevent Tibetans and their supporters from staging demonstrations during the visit of the Chinese premier. He also finds some of the official speeches too polite, to say the least.

Anti-communist slogans used to be the most important pillar of Fidesz’ rhetoric – particularly when the Socialist were in government” – János Sebők writes in Heti Világgazdaság. The newly-established ties may prove to be extremely fruitful for Hungary, but the government may pay a high price for this partnership. The opposition has already contrasted PM Orbán’s declarations over the weekend with his previous anti-communist rhetoric.

Mainstream right-wing commentators, however, show more understanding towards the government. Csaba Szajlai in Magyar Hírlap writes that “Realpolitik no longer allows relations with China to be determined by human rights considerations alone.” He notes that other Western democracies also “take into account cultural and civilizational differences” and cooperate with China, in the hope that economic collaboration will promote political liberalization.

“Wen Jiabao is not a communist, and not really a mass-murderer. Yet one can still have objections,” writes Márton Bede in Index. The degree of warmth displayed by Orbán towards the Chinese Premier was exaggerated, he suggests, but adds that this is not a unique case: “Barack Obama and David Cameron, who also voice anti-communist and freedom-loving slogans, sit down for tea – and ten billion dollars – with China anytime, anywhere.

Some praise, albeit probably unwelcome, has come from former Socialist Party chairman and former PM (2004 -2009) Ferenc Gyurcsány, who welcomed “the reformulation of Fidesz’ foreign policy”. On his Facebook page Mr Gyurcsány contends that “Viktor Orbán was right to give more attention to the Chinese Prime Minister than standard diplomatic formalities require.”

Everyone does business with China nowadays – writes political scientist and former presidential advisor Ferenc Kumin in his blog. He stresses the importance of the choice of Hungary as the only country chosen by the Chinese Prime Minister for a stopover before his visits to London and Berlin. “We may not like the way public affairs are conducted within the People’s Republic of China, but actually no one expects us to.”

Another well-known political scientist, Gábor Török also acknowledges that we may badly need Chinese participation in our economy. But he also recalls that in the not-so-distant-past, leading Fidesz politicians used to demonstrate for a Free Tibet and denounced Chinese human rights abuses. “Anti-communism was a political cornerstone for Fidesz, and it seemed that this was not directed exclusively at Hungarian communists.”

Török regrets that the governing party failed to acknowledge the change in its political stance. It should have openly explained that in certain cases economic interests must take precedence over moral values. “Such acknowledgements need not, of course, be made in the middle of diplomatic negotiations, but smart politicians can find ways to explain their real reasons to the public, while still glorifying their partners.”

Such a statement would have been rather necessary for Fidesz. Credits are important, but as we have learnt in the past years, credibility is also crucial,” Török concludes.

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