An estimated 10,000 protesters gathered in the Hungarian capital, Budapest on Saturday to voice their anger over plans to build a Chinese university at taxpayers’ expense instead of previously planned affordable housing for Hungarian students.
The issue arose in April when investigative Hungarian news site, Direkt36, claimed to have seen government documents saying that Fudan Hungary University, intended as a satellite of China’s prestigious Fudan University in Shanghai, would cost €1.5bn, of which €1.3bn would be covered by a loan from China.
The documents suggested the new Fudan campus would be situated in Budapest’s southern 9th District at the site of the planned Budapest Student City development, intended to provide affordable housing for up to 12,000 Hungarian students.
The documents also indicated that the job of building the campus would go to China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) with no competitive bidding in a state-to-state arrangement designed to bypass EU procurement rules, Direkt36 said.
Budapest’s mayor Gergely Karacsony (pictured), who will challenge Hungary’s nationalist prime minister Viktor Orbán in the 2022 parliamentary elections, addressed the rally on Saturday after making headlines earlier in the week by renaming four streets near the campus site to cause maximum offence to Beijing.
The new names are "Free Hong Kong Road", "Dalai Lama Road", "Uyghur Martyrs’ Road" and "Bishop Si-kuang Road", the last commemorating an underground Catholic bishop in China who was imprisoned for 28 years because of his faith.
Karacsony has argued that the Fudan campus would benefit only "rich foreigners" while leaving Hungary in debt to China and vulnerable to its influence.
Writing on Facebook today, Karacsony said it was "unacceptable if the Hungarian government serves the Chinese political and economic influence instead of Hungary’s interests".
He added: "That’s why I said: we didn’t protest against the Chinese people, but against the sneaky sale of Hungary’s sovereignty."
A survey of Hungarians conducted in mid-May and published by the Republikon Institute found that 66% of respondents opposed the Fudan campus plan, with 27% supporting it.
China has dismissed the furore over the university as political opportunism.
Responding to the renamed streets, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said: "A few Hungarian politicians are trying to hype up China-related issues in order to grab attention and obstruct China-Hungary cooperation. This behaviour is contemptible," Reuters reported.Â
The Hungarian government last week defended the Fudan campus plan, according to Reuters, which quoted Tama Schanda, deputy minister for innovation and technology, as saying: "The presence of Fudan University means that it will be possible to learn from the best in the world."
Image: Budapest mayor Gergely Karacsony poses for selfies after addressing a rally against Fudan Hungary University on Saturday 5 June (From Gergely Karacsony’s Facebook page)