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May 19, 2017

Interview with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on Magyar Televizió (Hungarian public television) summarising his recent visit to Beijing

Beijing. May 16, 2017

Balázs Beregi: Prime Minister, the main reason for your visit to Beijing was the One Belt, One Road forum, where you gave a speech today in which you spoke about a new form of globalisation. Would you explain exactly what you meant?

History will decide whether it is true that we have arrived at a cusp between two historical eras, but now I am inclined to support this interpretation. The way I would explain it is that the old model for globalisation has become obsolete, and in reality has lost its impetus. The old model of globalisation was built on the assumption that the West is where the money is, where profit is generated and where technological know-how is also based; in this model these all flow in the direction of poorer and less developed countries. But in recent decades – and especially over the past ten years – this has changed. The engine room of the global economy is no longer in the West, but in the East – or, rather, the East has caught up with the West. Eastern countries are no longer lag behind their western counterparts in terms of their level of technological development; and nowadays in fact the largest amounts of money are accumulating in Asia, and then flowing back from there towards the West. So if you take a look at the Hungarian economy, for instance, you will see that in the past year or two American and European companies, large corporations – but especially American ones – have been bought up by the Chinese. This has resulted in a sharp increase in the number of Hungarian development projects which are now Chinese-owned. This movement of capital is totally different to what we have been used to, and to what we have been taught about the operation of the global economy. From another perspective, a large part of the world has also had enough of the old form of globalisation, because it divided the world into two halves: teachers and students. And it has become increasingly offensive that a few developed countries have been continuously lecturing most of the world on human rights, democracy, development and the market economy. Everyone has had enough of this; and of these the Chinese are the strongest – so they’ve launched another direction of movement, which is called “One Belt, One Road”. This is specifically built on mutual acceptance: there is no teacher and no student. The President of China has said that everyone has the right to their own social structure, culture, approach and values. We should not be striving to change each other or to form a group alliance, but to accept each other the way we are, and instead link these countries, nations and economies. Accordingly, in terms of economic content the One Belt, One Road forum in Beijing was primarily concerned with creating the conditions for maritime trade, the construction of railway lines, aerodromes and bridges, the development of road networks and the modern-day linking of the peoples who live along the former Silk Road.

You not only took part in the One Belt, One Road forum, but also held several bilateral meetings. Some of these were public – such as your meetings with the Mongolian prime minister or President Erdogan. Some meetings were not public. There has been speculation in the Hungarian press that you also met President Putin to discuss the Paks [nuclear power plant] project. Can you confirm or refute these reports?

Let me reply to those points in order. First of all this was also an official state visit to the People’s Republic of China, which meant that I held bilateral negotiations with the President, Premier and Chairman of Congress of the People’s Republic of China, and also with some Chinese investors. In these meetings we concluded several important agreements, primarily of an economic and financial nature. The most spectacular of these concerns the modernisation of the Budapest-Belgrade railway line, on which we have reached a point which enables us to discuss the financial conditions. The related agreements will soon be signed, meaning that we will soon be able to release the public procurement tenders and begin construction on the project. We also concluded several financial agreements – including one on China Exim Bank and the Hungarian Development Bank mobilising Chinese capital to assist Hungarian small and medium-sized enterprises, and Chinese enterprises investing in Hungary. So I believe that these bilateral talks have led to successful agreements on the creation of many new jobs and major value to the national economy, or to agreements on their future establishment. I had a bilateral meeting with President Erdogan of Turkey, who we always treat with respect, especially as European security – including that of Hungary – is largely dependent on his country, because today Turkey is a stable country that is capable of preventing illegal migration, and this is linked to clear Hungarian interests. One of Hungary’s most important national security interests is the proper maintenance of Hungarian-Turkish relations. Then I also met with the Prime Minister of Mongolia, with which the potential for future cooperation is huge; to put it mildly, this means that the current level of economic activity is extremely low. In this area there is still much work to do. Our friendship, common history and legends on the origin of the Hungarian people form excellent foundations for this, but significant economic activity has not yet been established – although perhaps it will be in the future. And of course, as is always the case on the sidelines of every large conference, there are also non-official talks. Here too I had discussions with European Union officials, I had a relatively long conversation with the Italian president and I also spoke with President Putin. We don’t see this as a negotiation, because it didn’t have the formal framework related to that; but I had a relatively long conversation with him about issues relating to global politics and the global economy. We didn’t need to discuss Hungarian-Russian relations, because the most important issue – the Paks Nuclear Power Plant project – is moving forward well and on schedule.

Finally, you also laid a wreath at the Monument to the People’s Heroes on Tiananmen Square. This received quite a lot of criticism in Hungary, particularly from the opposition; and a few newspapers also criticised you for laying a wreath at the monument on Tiananmen Square. What is your response to these attacks?

Well, perhaps what I can tell you is that there’s no cure for stupidity. Up until now there has been a consensus on both the left and the right in Hungarian politics – let’s call it a form of cooperation. When someone visits China we’ve never criticised them for laying a wreath at the country’s memorial to its heroes. I have followed a tradition begun by [former President of Hungary] Árpád Göncz. Back then the right didn’t criticise him. I believe that now the best thing the left-wing opposition could do is to follow suit, because it’s also in Hungary’s interests to develop excellent relations with China. I believe that such issues, including symbolic issues, must always be approached from the perspective of Hungarian national interests – just as Árpád Göncz did. Or I could cite the King and Prime Minister of Belgium. If this gesture is not unworthy of them, why should it be unworthy of the Hungarian prime minister?