Thousands of Hungarians protested on June 5 against a Chinese university's plans to open a campus in Budapest.
The Fudan University campus, planned for completion in 2024, would be the first Chinese university in the European Union.
The campus is controversial because China is expected to give the Hungarian government a $1.5 billion loan to cover most costs of the project, which is slated to be built at a site where affordable housing for Hungarian students had previously been planned.
Critics also see the project as an avenue for Beijing to increase its influence in Hungary and the European Union.
Conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orban has built friendly ties with China, Russia, and other illiberal governments, while repeatedly clashing with the European Union by curbing the independence of the judiciary and media.
Orban's government argues that having a campus of the Shanghai-based university would allow Hungarian and international students to acquire high-quality qualifications, but critics fear a lack of transparency and academic freedom. The university is ranked 160th in the world and 7th best in China by U.S. News and World Report.
Budapest’s liberal mayor, Gergely Karacsony, opposes the expensive project, arguing among other things that the university’s charter requires it to represent the views of the Chinese Communist Party.
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Orban’s Fidesz party “is selling out wholesale the housing of Hungarian students, and their future, just so it can bring the elite university of China's dictatorship into the country," the organizers of the protest said on Facebook.
But Tamas Schanda, a deputy government minister, said the protest was unnecessary "political hysteria" based on unfounded rumors and the project is still in the planning stage.
While Budapest’s mayor doesn’t have much power to stop the project, earlier this week he announced plans to rename streets surrounding the future campus “Dalai Lama road,” "Uyghur Martyrs,” and "Free Hong Kong,” in reference to Chinese human rights abuses.
Beijing has tried to downplay opposition to the campus, saying it is a sign of positive cooperation between China and Hungary.
Orban’s embrace of a Chinese university stands in contrast to his stance on the Central European University, once a liberal bastion of learning in Budapest.
In 2018, Hungary's leading private university was forced to leave the country and relocate most operations to Vienna after Orban's government pushed legislation that drastically curbed its freedom.
The move against the university came as part of a public campaign against its founder, U.S. billionaire philanthropist George Soros -- a Budapest native of Jewish origin.