Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban confirmed on Thursday that there would be a referendum on a planned establishment of a campus for Chinese Fudan University, which sparked a protest over the weekend.
Orban, who faces elections in early 2022, has tentatively drawn up plans for the Chinese school, which analysts say is aimed at defusing political tensions and taking the steam out of the opposition’s campaign against the university.
Opponents of Orban fear that the $ 2 billion planned campus could undermine the quality of higher education and help Beijing increase its influence in Hungary and the European Union.
Orban has built strong ties with the Chinese regime, including massive joint ventures, and has repeatedly blocked EU declarations this year, condemning the Chinese regime’s record on human rights and angering its allies. Hungary blocked an EU statement in April criticizing China’s new security legislation in Hong Kong, which undermines the bloc’s efforts to seize Beijing’s freedom control in the former British colony.
According to media reports, the government was willing to pay with a Chinese loan for the construction of the first Fudan University in Shanghai in Europe. The campus will displace a planned local student housing area.
Orban and his ruling Fidesz party face their first competitive election next year after three consecutive landslides since 2010. Opposition parties have united for the first time against Fidesz and overtaken them in polls.
Political observers say Orban could decide to give up his time on Fudan and return to the idea after the election.
“It is the hallmark of Fidesz to take two steps back to wait until the issue loses political steam, and try again if it is more politically comfortable,” said Peter Kreko, an analyst at Political Capital.
Orban has previously abandoned unpopular projects, such as a tax on internet traffic, a separate administrative court system and plans to privatize marinas on Lake Balaton.
Gergely Karacsony, the opposition mayor of Budapest and a top candidate to challenge Orban in next year’s election, said on Saturday that the university protest was a symbol of the fact that Hungary was rejecting heavy-handed government decisions.
“Although we do not have human rights … we do not really want a Chinese elite school to be built at the expense of Hungarian taxpayers,” Karacsony said on Saturday.
Epoch Times staff contributed to this report