Speech by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán at the Hungarian-Vietnamese Business Forum

19 January 2024, Budapest

Honourable Prime Minister Phạm Minh Chính, Dear Members of the Vietnamese Delegation, Business Leaders working in the cooperation between our two countries, 

I welcome you most cordially on behalf of the Hungarian government. I would like to briefly report to you on our meeting with the Prime Minister yesterday. We had long talks and analysed the relations to date between our two countries. Hungary sees it as a success that we have managed to increase the value of goods shipped from Hungary to Vietnam to the level of 100 million US dollars; but we also noted that the volume and value of goods coming from Vietnam to Hungary far exceeds this. We would like to improve this situation by asking the Prime Minister to bring strong players from the dynamic and spectacularly growing Vietnamese national economy to Hungary: to send them to Hungary in order to invest here, and – in addition to our trading relationship – to establish an investment relationship between our two countries. As you are developing very rapidly and accumulating capital faster than we are, we primarily look for investment from you, but we are also happy to go and invest in some areas in Vietnam. We have agreed, we have talked about sectors such as agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and so on. So, all in all, I can report to all of you here that yesterday we ended the day with an economically fruitful negotiation.

But the real value of yesterday’s talks goes beyond the economy, because it was an opportunity for us to better understand Vietnam and the Vietnamese people. And we also tried to show more of ourselves: to increase understanding of Hungary. Hungary is a patriotic country. Hungary is proud of its history. It is proud that we have defended our independence for a thousand years. We are proud of the fact that we have not been intimidated by bigger forces. And listening to the Prime Minister talk about the history of Vietnam, its internal driving forces, the history of the last one hundred years and especially the very difficult period between 1944 and 1984, which the Prime Minister has also mentioned here, I was reminded of an important moment in my secondary school studies. Prime Minister, in secondary schools here we have to study in detail the period when Hungary’s independence was endangered by the Ottoman Empire, and we strove heroically to defend Hungary – more heroically than successfully, but that is a subject for another speech. We defended it as best we could. And a novel was written about one of the very famous city sieges of that time, which every Hungarian child reads. This is “Egri csillagok” [“Eclipse of the Crescent Moon” or “The Stars of Eger” in translation]. We are in the middle of the 16th century, we are outnumbered by the invaders, and we are defending the fortress. And then the fortress captain gathers his soldiers together and tells them that the strength of the city is not in its walls, but in the souls of its defenders. And when you were talking to me yesterday about the history of Vietnam, this is precisely what came to mind, because you have won some very important wars. If someone looks at the relative forces, the weapons and the means at your disposal, these in no way explain your success; it can only be explained by the fact that you steadfastly stood by your independence, your country and your culture. I think that this is an important shared element in the history of our two peoples. From this businesspeople can understand why the political relationship between our two countries is stable and solid. And businesspeople can also draw encouragement from this, because they can see that cooperation between our two countries is not tactical, not cyclical, not based on trends – and not even related to the fact that Vietnam is doing well at the moment; in fact it is a deeply rooted, stable system of relations. And anyone who operates in Vietnamese-Hungarian business today, who invests and risks money, is not threatened by any political risk to their success. There is no political risk, because relations between the two countries are deeply rooted, as the Prime Minister has said: we established bilateral relations in 1950 after the World War, and both of us have cherished them ever since.

If I may, Prime Minister, I would like to say a few words to Vietnamese businesspeople about Hungary. I cannot present such a triumphant list of achievements as depicted in this short film, the one on the Vietnamese economy that you have just shown us here. But we need not be ashamed either, because although we are not developing at the same pace as Vietnam, by European standards and scale our development is also remarkable. Our public debt is higher than yours, but it is manageable and on a downward trend. Our finances are stable, regardless of any EU money. We are a country that produces twice as much food as we consume, so we can export 50 per cent of our agricultural products. And perhaps most importantly for our Vietnamese friends, ours is a complex economy. So we often see countries the size of Hungary that are basically monocultural: good at one or two things. This is not the case in Hungary. There is a world index of economic complexity that ranks countries, and there we are consistently ranked the tenth or eleventh most complex economy in the world economic system.

With a little boasting, just so that our Vietnamese guests understand what I am talking about, I will tell you a few things that would not be possible without us – without the Hungarians. For example, one would not be able to keep boredom at bay with the Rubik’s Cube if we Hungarians had not invented it. Or the whole of humanity would still be writing with their fingers or quill pens if Mr. Bíró – who was a Hungarian – had not invented the ballpoint pen. Or there would be no computer system if Neumann – the father of the computer – had not created the first computer. And it would be painful for even the fine Italians to only be able to drink coffee with boiled water if a Hungarian engineer called Ferenc Illy – while a prisoner of war in Italy – had not invented the coffee-making machine. This is still the most important engineering invention in the production of espresso coffee. So, Honourable Vietnamese Guests, what I wanted to say is that the Hungarian economy may not be very large compared to yours, but it is strong in complexity, strong in technology, strong in production culture, and we have a lot of innovation eagerly awaiting the arrival of a major economic player that can transfer our innovation and use it in business. This is a huge opportunity. Last year, in 2023, two Nobel Prizes were awarded to Hungarians: one in biology and one in physics. My message to Vietnamese businesspeople is that they should take us seriously, they should not look only at our size, they should not judge us only by size, but they should also see the qualitative elements in the Hungarian economy.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This does not mean that Hungary does not have problems. We have tasks and challenges ahead of us. We are optimistic that we can cope with them, but they are not easy tasks. We are facing a demographic challenge. Throughout Europe there is what is called a “demographic autumn”: the population is declining. We have a plan to turn this around through family policy, but there is doubt over whether we will succeed. In any case, we are struggling, and perhaps we are hopeful. Ahead of us is a digitalisation task. The Hungarian economy is, of course, in some segments more digitalised than the Western European economy; but there are segments of our economy that are extremely underdeveloped in terms of digitalisation, and so we are looking ahead to a big explosion. This year and next year we will introduce digital citizenship, and all related activities that can be streamlined through digitalisation – bureaucracy and administrative procedures – will be streamlined. And we have one more problem: GDP added value. The Hungarian economy – I hope Mr. Szijjártó will agree with this figure, and that I am on the mark with it – is an economy with an export performance that is 85 per cent of its GDP. I am right, I think, Péter? 85 per cent! But it is also important to know that, unfortunately, a significant segment of these exports does not really come from added value. So we need to increase the proportion of investment in the Hungarian economy – and here we are counting on you, Prime Minister – that brings activities to Hungary through which we can also generate added value. Following this we can export it together. So even in the midst of our problems, we can perhaps count on opportunities that Vietnamese businesspeople can seize.

Finally, Ladies and Gentlemen, I have to say that the situation in Europe is complicated. If I were a Vietnamese businessperson, I would justifiably ask this question: “It’s nice that Hungary is pursuing its own foreign economic policy, but it belongs to the European Union. What can we expect? Will the European Union change, and won’t this be a disadvantage for those Vietnamese businesses that have invested in Hungary?” This is a legitimate question, because a major realignment in the world economy is underway: your world – Asia – is rising inexorably, Europe cannot keep up with this tempo, and in Europe this is causing a certain frustration. There are two schools of thought within the EU on how to respond to this situation. One school says that we should protect ourselves. They use the terms “decoupling” and “de-risking”: to separate ourselves from the rising East and protect what we have. And there is another school of thought which says that the rise of Asia is an opportunity for us: we should not oppose it, but see it as an opportunity, and participate in it. This school mostly arranges its ideas around the word “connectivity”. Bloc formation and decoupling, or connectivity? This is the big question in the European Union today. We are doing well in this battle, and I think that now there are ever more of us who realise that decoupling will do even more to ruin us, and will make us less competitive. The number of countries in Europe that prefer cooperation and are in favour of connectivity is growing, and in our internal European debate I very much hope that Hungary will have a positive impact, and that we will be able to move European economic policy in the direction of connectivity. With this, I simply wanted to say to our distinguished Vietnamese guests that there is a good chance that the stable environment you are experiencing here in the Hungarian economy will be maintained in the long term, for decades to come.

If I were a Vietnamese businessperson, I would ask one more question before I put a penny on the table here in Hungary. I would ask, “And won’t you get involved in the Russo-Ukrainian war? Because this war is in a neighbouring country – Ukraine neighbours Hungary.” And here I must answer that Hungary is very firmly and clearly on the side of peace. We speak in exactly the same tone of voice as you do. We too know that peace is the greatest asset, that peace is necessary for development, for prosperity, and that where there is war, a ceasefire must be established as soon as possible and peace must be achieved as soon as possible. So we are both, if I may say so, in the peace camp. You can therefore rest assured that in Hungary there will be no adventurist policy of any kind that would allow Hungary to be dragged, pushed or squeezed into the conflict that is currently happening in Hungary’s neighbouring country. So war will have no impact on your economic investment and activity in Hungary.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is only fitting that I should congratulate our guests from Vietnam – including the Prime Minister – on the dynamic growth we can see. When receiving guests, one also learns modesty. I, for example, was very proud of our achievement after we said, in 2010, that we would create one million jobs in ten years. And when I look at Vietnam I see that 28 million jobs have been created in five years. For now we will leave aside the difference in magnitude, but the similarity of the two intentions suggests a common mindset. Obviously we want to create jobs because we are not only thinking in terms of economic profit, which is of course essential for business: we also want economic success to serve the well-being of our people. In other words, through economic success we want to create workplaces in which Vietnamese people and Hungarians work. This shows that we think about the economy in a similar way.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Finally, as the Prime Minister said, Europe has concluded an investment protection agreement with Vietnam. And Prime Minister Phạm Minh Chính is right to say that there are still quite a few countries – perhaps nine – that have not yet ratified it in their national parliaments. We were the first to do so. Later this year we will hold the presidency of the Council of the European Union, and I have made a commitment to the Prime Minister that we will do everything we can to ensure that the remaining ratifications take place. I can tell Hungarian businesspeople that Vietnam also has a free trade agreement with the European Union. This is the most ambitious free trade agreement the European Union has ever concluded with anyone. We have an agreement that says that by 2030 we will make 99 per cent of bilateral trade duty-free. This sends a message to both Vietnamese people and Hungarians that there will be no trade barriers to harm your business results if you do business in the European Union – including in Hungary.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There is one major obstacle or difficulty in our relationship – and that is distance. You are very far away – or we are very far away. We have to find a way to resolve this. We have two remedies for this at the moment. We have agreed with the Prime Minister that we will develop a plan for how to establish direct air transport between our two countries. If there is no direct air service, it will be very difficult to have a really vibrant business relationship between the business communities of the two countries. There is a technical solution for facilitating this. The Prime Minister and I have agreed to instruct our ministers to table a proposal for a direct air service. And the other means of overcoming the distance is personal contact between citizens from our two peoples, also known as “people-to-people diplomacy”. Therefore it is of great importance that Vietnamese students study in Hungary, and that Hungarian students go to study in Vietnam. For the time being, the number of the latter is still small, but the number of people coming from Vietnam is high. Today more than nine hundred Vietnamese students – university students – are studying in Hungarian universities with state scholarships from the Hungarian state; and we hope that when they return to Vietnam they will become good ambassadors for Vietnamese-Hungarian friendship. I hope that today agreements between our universities have been signed, that we can further expand university cooperation, and that through friendship and education we can overcome the distance that currently separates our two countries geographically.

In conclusion, Prime Minister, I would like to thank you once again, in front of the Hungarian public, for your visit to Hungary. Thank you for bringing this very high-level delegation. I also thank the ministers for coming. Thank you to the businesspeople who have come to Hungary. I have accepted the Prime Minister’s invitation to visit him at the beginning of next year. This is good news for us, because we will see each other again in Vietnam in a year from now at the latest. The deadline for the ministers will be a little tight, because the Prime Minister has said that this will be when they will have to report on the work that we have just issued to them, and that we would like to see completed in a year’s time. So, Prime Minister, thank you for coming, and we look forward to visiting you in Vietnam early next year.

Thank you for your visit.