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75 years on, China-Hungary friendship blossoms on Belt and Road


The China-Europe freight train linking the city of Jinhua in east China's Zhejiang Province with Budapest in Hungary is launched on June 7, 2021. /CFP
The China-Europe freight train linking the city of Jinhua in east China's Zhejiang Province with Budapest in Hungary is launched on June 7, 2021. /CFP

The China-Europe freight train linking the city of Jinhua in east China's Zhejiang Province with Budapest in Hungary is launched on June 7, 2021. /CFP

In 2015, Hungary became the first European country to sign a Belt and Road cooperation document with China. Since then, their friendship has further blossomed, with advances made in political, trade and people-to-people relations.

'Skyrocketing' cooperation

Addressing a reception hosted by the Chinese Embassy in Hungary to celebrate the 2024 Chinese Lunar New Year in early February, Hungarian Minister for National Economy Marton Nagy hailed the dynamic expansion of Hungary-China cooperation, particularly within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Back in 2010, Hungary launched an economic strategy called "Opening to the East," and China announced the BRI three years later. Hungary's signing of the BRI Memorandum of Understanding in June 2015 represented the successful docking of China-proposed BRI and Hungary's "Opening to the East" strategy.

Construction of a flagship BRI project, the Hungary-Serbia railway connecting the Hungarian capital Budapest and Serbian capital Belgrade, is now progressing smoothly. Work on the Hungarian section commenced in July 2020 and entered the civil engineering construction phase in February 2022. The project is scheduled to be completed by July 2025.

The 152-kilometer Hungarian section of the line is being built by a consortium of China Railway No. 9 Bureau, China Railway Electrification Engineering Group and Hungarian partners.

The railway, which is set to reduce travel time between the two cities from eight hours to approximately 3.5 hours, is expected to lead to the building of logistics hubs in the countries and drive the construction of infrastructure to boost economic development.

Nagy also highlighted the key role of Chinese investments in bolstering Hungary's economic competitiveness, citing the presence of Chinese companies in Hungary, such as Huawei and BYD.

Figures published by Hungarian Investment Promotion Agency indicate that last year, Hungary received a record 13 billion euros ($14.1 billion) in foreign direct investment, including 7.6 billion euros from Chinese investors.

According to Peter Holicza, deputy secretary of state for European Union affairs and international relations at the Ministry of Energy, economic cooperation between China and Hungary has yielded 8.5 billion euros in investment, 33 projects and over 13,000 jobs in the past five years.

Data from the Chinese Foreign Ministry shows that in 2022, the bilateral trade volume reached $15.52 billion, an increase of 84 percent from 2013.

Noting that this year marks the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Budapest and Beijing, Nagy said, "Hungary-China ties are at their historic best" and he expects cooperation between the countries to "skyrocket" in the coming year.

'A thumbs-up'

On the desk of Erdelyi Zsuzsanna, head of Hungarian-Chinese Bilingual School, there is a precious photo of Xi Jinping's visit to the school in 2009.

"It was late autumn and the weather in Hungary was very cold." Erdelyi still remembers that visit vividly. "When Xi, who was then China's vice president, visited the school, he assured our school that he would support and help its development."

Before the 2023 Spring Festival, Varga Bonita and Imre Tamara, two students at the school, wrote a letter to President Xi and his wife, Peng Liyuan, on behalf of the school, conveying their New Year's greetings.

Days later, Xi replied, saying he still remembered chatting with teachers and students at the school in 2009. He said he would like to give the students a thumbs-up upon hearing that they have continued learning Chinese, and encouraged young Hungarians to learn more about China and become envoys of the China-Hungary friendship.

"It was a very heartwarming thing. It really lifted the mood at the school," Erdelyi said of Xi's reply. "We were very happy that there was a reply so quickly… We were very happy because we thought that a person in such a high position would not be sure to respond to the students' letter."

"This letter of reply is not only an affirmation of Chinese language teaching in the Hungarian-Chinese Bilingual School, but also an affirmation of the cultural exchanges and cooperation between the two countries," said Zombory Klara, president of the Hungarian-Chinese Friendship Association.

The Chinese language is a popular subject in Hungary. It is included in the Hungarian national education system, and students can choose Chinese as their first examinable foreign language in elementary and middle schools.

According to the Chinese Embassy in Hungary, China and Hungary currently provide about 220 scholarships to each other every year to encourage student exchanges that allow young people to study in each other's countries.

The Chinese president has reiterated that friendship between peoples holds the key to the relationship between countries, and the people are the cornerstone of flourishing bilateral ties.

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