by Gábor TÓTH, President, Gateway to Europe V4-China Association
Shanghai got to the focus of attention for a week in November 2018 whereas the first China International Import Expo took place with the participation of over 2800 companies from 130 countries and regions of the world. Hungary was a guest of honour among many other “great” nations such as Great Britain, Russia and Germany. Hungarian companies promoted their products as politicians paved the way for smooth cooperation.
This is an enormous achievement for Hungarian economic diplomacy that we were the only country from the CEE region to be invited as main guests. For several days the Hungarian press analyzed all the benefits of this landmark expo, praising Hungarian-Chinese relations which have never been so strong in the course of our 70 years of official cooperation.
However, an event of even greater significance was held right after Mr. Viktor Orban, Prime Minister of Hungary traveled back from Shanghai that the press did not deal with so much, perhaps because it wasn’t as spectacular as the one in China.
Leaders of the 16+1 central banks met in Budapest to strengthen their ties in the field of finance, opening a new chapter in CEE-China relations.
PM Orban gave a speech that had certain thoughts to be noted because they are visionary.
This was the first time that the central bankers of the sixteen Central European countries and China have held a joint conference.
“The past ten years have proved that the rise of the Chinese economy is not a temporary phenomenon. China will be a fixed star in the period ahead, and will be a major player in the world economy for a very long time”- the PM said.
He further noted that in addition to historical and geographical relations, economic relations will also come into being between the two rising power centres: China and Central Europe. The two regions will be increasingly connected to each other.
“This involves no less than China and Central Europe forming part of a single continuous geographical region” - continued Mr. Orban, adding that by rail it may be possible to travel and transport any goods between China and CEE in two weeks. If we are able to build a rapid rail link from the Greek ports to Europe, this journey will be even faster.
There’s one big issue, though, that makes building Eurasia harder than it should be. The emotional and ideological trap that some western European countries are in. However, eventually everyone will realise that we must adopt an approach to China that is free from ideology. We must accept that we are different, we organise our lives differently and we lead our countries in different ways.
When it comes to Hungary the trade volume between us and China amounts to more then 7 billion dollars, and its rate of growth is staggering, standing at an average of 10 per cent during the last years; and it grew by 18 per cent in the first three quarters of 2018.
Another very important point was made by the Prime Minister, stating that it seemed increasingly likely that we would need to prepare ourselves for the dollar losing its monopoly in world trade. This is a statement not to be taken lightly.
Well, Hungarians take it seriously, which is reflected in our monetary policy as well. Orban told his audience: “When we issue bonds abroad, we will do so in the direction of the East, and we shall work on creating the possibility for the yuan to be the currency in which bilateral trade is settled.” Can you see why I believe that this event with this speech is more important than the expo in Shanghai?
The shocking remarks kept coming: According to analyses - partly Hungarian and partly international - that land on the premier’s desk, there is a 70 per cent probability of another approaching crisis. They claim that we should expect an economic decline of unspecified nature: smaller than in 2008, but almost certain to take place. This makes it all the more essential for Hungary to stand on two feet and stick to her policy of opening to the East.
If we are serious about building Eurasia, we must implement major developments, primarily infrastructure developments, because we must link China, Central Europe and the Balkans to a single network: a network on a global scale.
Hungary is in the frontlines of history, yet again. We are at the door of a new era, and our Central European friends can trust us and look to us when it comes to building cooperation with China, after all we must be doing something right, being the only ones in the heart of Europe to enjoy the most special attention and strategic political partnership with the Asian giant. Building a truly unitary Eurasia will depend on how CEE countries finally find a common ground and work together to make the journey on the New Silk Road a future success.