16: Diversifying Dependencies? Hungary, the EU, and the Multifaceted Geopolitics of Chinese Infrastructure Investments

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This chapter examines Hungary’s attempt to leverage its strategic position as a member of the EU and its geography on the bloc’s eastern periphery. While Hungary is firmly rooted in the EU and benefits from integration in European – mainly German – production networks, the right-wing Orbán government that came to power in 2010 turned to China in pursuit of domestic and regional political and spatial objectives. This orientation was precipitated by the hope that ties with Beijing would foster Chinese investment and international trade. This chapter contextualizes Hungary’s ‘eastward turn’ as a reversal of the resolute faith in Western Europe, and ‘the West’ in general, that characterized Hungarian politics since the end of the Cold War. This faith was severely tested in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and, in this context, the Hungarian government seized on integration with China’s fast-growing economy as the answer to persistently sluggish growth and the EU’s bureaucratic inertia. However, this chapter shows that this strategy’s economic dividends have largely failed to materialize, while its infrastructural promise has also lagged far below expectations. As a result, domestic and foreign criticism of Hungary’s relations with China has grown louder in recent years, and relations with China are currently becoming a central issue in Hungarian domestic politics.

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