Hungary on the borderline of East and West

2018.09.05

It is precisely the Orient that may be causing their greatest headache in the coming decade. 

The G-7 was clear proof of growing tensions between the European Union and the United States, which surely serves the interest of the ever stronger players of the East, mainly China.

The One Belt, One Road initiative set forth by Beijing in 2013 may have been ridiculed and played down in the beginning, but not any more. In just a few short years, this project has grown significantly, attracting dozens of countries along the ambitious path of the “New Silk Road”. While the West has made efforts to minimize the importance and scope of this visionary, world-changing initiative, China is literally pouring money - in the form of investment - into it. If one has the opportunity to go to China for an official visit, he will surely sense that the so-called Yi Dai Yi Lu (One Belt, One Road) has absolutely taken a central role in Beijing’s communication on every level. 

Government delegations travel to each and every country willing to consider joining the plan, or at least hear what the Chinese have to offer.

As for Hungary, like always, there’s much more to this story that meets the eye. 

Many know and remember that Hungary was the first European country to join the OBOR with a document signed by Peter Szijjartó, Foreign Minister of Hungary and Li KeQiang, Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of China.

Yet, only a few ask why. How come a small country of ten million people in the heart of Europe took a brave step to endorse such a contract as a pioneer? To understand the why, we must go back to 2010, when the second Orbán government won a landslide mandate to lead Hungary out of the most turbulent period of recent Hungarian history, right after the global financial crisis and the swiftly arriving challenges of the restructuring world order that followed.

“The center of world power has been gradually shifting from West to East” - stated Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who had the vision back in 2010 to announce the so-called “Opening to the East” policy, explaining that a prudent country stands on two feet, therefore Hungary must strengthen its partnership, concretely economic and trade cooperation with Asia. While many countries are involved in this strategy, the main focus of this opening is China, the country that no European nation can afford to ignore if they aspire to be successful in the 21st century.

It does not require deep understanding of world politics to guess that Hungary’s western allies were critical of this move, attacking it morally and even from an economic point of view. But history works on its own terms. Bold, unorthodox, risk-taking maneuvering often bares fruit and favors the ones that think outside the box even despite heavy pressure coming from many directions.

Who could have predicted the incredible change in power structures that has taken place in the last three short years? 2015 being the dividing line, Europe is at a fork in the road. Cautious analysts must admit that China, just like any other nation, especially of such influence, also has an opinion, her own view on the future of Europe. In other words, simply by looking at the approach Beijing takes toward the old continent, one can figure out which direction the most powerful country of Asia might wish Europe would choose.

Some claim that China only cares about business and therefore does not really mind which model Europe will adopt and what future her citizens will vote for. This is not true, of course. They need a strong Europe for many reasons, not just for business. When it comes to Europe, history shows that Europeans value their own culture, religion, way of life more than business, therefore they will choose a path which can simultaneously provide both the preservation of values and business opportunities. Some have even argued that China and the One Belt, One Road will ensure the prosperity that Europe so desperately wants to get back, while creating a pragmatic alliance system that is based on the cooperation of two friendly, neighbouring continents with no intentions of lecturing and looking down on each other, making it possible for Europe to protect its identity and culture. 

From Hungary’s and the Visegrad Group’s standpoint, the alternative of an eastern alliance starting out as just a “safety net” may easily and quickly become priority, if their citizens lose hope and faith in the leaders of the West, more precisely their ability and willingness to safeguard the remarkable results Europe has achieved in the past decades.

This, of course, does not and should not mean that Hungary needs to alienate herself from her western allies, but it does mean that on today’s serpentines of global trade and foreign policy one must drive very carefully, ready for any possible outcome. The only thing that is predictable in current global affairs is unpredictability, just think of the election of President Trump, the Brexit, election results in Austria and Italy and by the time this article is published, the list will have made room for the newest “surprise”. Leaders that can navigate on the mirky waters of the next decade, minimizing surprises by thinking ahead with common sense, tact and wisdom, shall be the winners of the age when the coming new world order is not just an idea anymore that journalist, scholars and politicians write and think about, but the stone cold reality that seems to be more and more inevitable.

In the following months and years, follow with great attention how Europe and Asia find solutions together to bring Europe out of the rut it has been stuck in for many years now. Likewise, watch closely how China will turn the “New Silk Road” into the most fascinating commercial success of the 21st century.

Will Hungary and CEE countries be the winners of the project?

Yet again, history will give us the answer, but with the direction this region has firmly taken, symbolically represented by Hungary and the “Opening to the East”, our chances are exceedingly promising.

When the Visegrad Group and other CEE countries find a common denominator on China and the OBOR, the real work will begin and trading along the New Silk Road shall change the face of Eurasian commerce for good.

 


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