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China’s Xi receives ceremonial welcome in Hungary ahead of talks with Orbán

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Chinese President Xi Jinping received a ceremonial welcome in Hungary’s capital on Thursday ahead of a day of talks with Hungarian officials which are expected to result in further Chinese investments in the Central European country.

Hungarian President Tamás Sulyok received Xi in an opulent courtyard of Budapest’s Buda Castle, where the two men walked down a red carpet beside a ceremonial honor guard and listened to the Chinese and Hungarian national anthems.

Numerous Chinese and Hungarian officials attended the ceremony, including Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s long-serving populist leader who has pursued deeper ties with Beijing while distancing himself from his more mainstream partners in the European Union.

Xi arrived in Hungary late Wednesday in a European tour that also took in Serbia and France. He will hold talks later in the day with Orbán and other officials on potential Chinese investments in Hungary in infrastructure, energy and electric vehicle manufacturing.

Beijing has invested billions in Hungary and sees the EU member as an important foothold inside the 27-member trading bloc. In December, Hungary announced that one of the world’s largest EV manufacturers, China’s BYD, will open its first European EV production factory in the south of the country — an inroad that could upend the competitiveness of the continent’s auto industry.

Festive offer

Hungary is also hosting several Chinese EV battery plants and hopes to become a global hub of lithium ion battery manufacturing, and has undertaken a railway project to connect the country with the Chinese-controlled port of Piraeus in Greece as an entry point for Chinese goods to Central and Eastern Europe.

Both governments have been careful to keep the contents of any potential deals secret until their official announcement. But unconfirmed media reports suggest China could announce additional investments in EV manufacturing and in developing Hungary’s railway network.

Speaking at a government news conference on Thursday, Orbán’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyás said Xi and Orbán would announce specific agreements later Thursday, but did not provide further information. Hungary’s foreign minister earlier said at least 16 agreements would be signed during Xi’s visit.

Budapest residents met with road closures and increased security on Thursday, and groups of Xi supporters and critics gathered in various points of the city to demonstrate.

Hundreds of people gathered near Budapest’s Buda Castle waving Chinese and Hungarian flags, hoping to catch a glimpse of Xi’s motorcade. Many Chinese nationals in red baseball caps and claiming to be volunteers with China’s embassy were present.

A Hungarian lawmaker with the opposition Momentum party told The Associated Press that he and a colleague had been approached by a group of such men on Wednesday as they attempted to place EU flags on a bridge in Budapest.

In a video obtained by the AP, the lawmaker, Márton Tompos, said that the men, all wearing red baseball caps, confronted him to make sure that no flags or symbols referencing China-claimed Tibet or Taiwan would be hung on the route of Xi’s motorcade.

“They told me that they were volunteers for the Chinese embassy here, and they said they wanted to make sure that there weren’t Tibetan or Taiwanese flags, because that wouldn’t be nice,” Tompos said. The men wouldn’t let his colleague proceed “until he showed them that it was an EU flag,” he added.

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