China irked after Budapest mayor names road ‘Uyghur Martyrs’

Uyghur Lives Matter

A sign that reads "Uyghur Lives Matter" is seen during a demonstration against the 2022 Olympics in China, at Lafayette Square May 27, 2021 in Washington, DC. 

Photo credit: Alex Wong | Getty Images | AFP

What you need to know:

  • He named  the roads Dalai Lama, Free Hong Kong Road, Uighur Martyrs and Bishop Xie Shiguang Road, according to a report by Politico.

The mayor of Budapest has renamed key roads in a subtle act of protest aimed at Beijing and the planned construction of a Chinese university in the Hungarian capital.

Gergely Karácsony, who is seen as a top contender for the premiership post in 2022, on Wednesday replaced local street names with those identifying with key political issues in China.

He named  the roads Dalai Lama, Free Hong Kong Road, Uighur Martyrs and Bishop Xie Shiguang Road, according to a report by Politico on Thursday.

The idea is to stop a controversial university project whose funding is from a loan from Beijing, first by embarrassing the central government of Hungary, which has lately enjoyed thawing relations with China.

“The new street names commemorate those who have been persecuted by the Communist Party of China, and with whom we stand in solidarity,” Karácsony told Politico on Thursday.

“Renaming streets alone may not be effective in stopping the project, but it sends a clear message that we are going to use all means at our disposal to protect the Student City plans.”

Last week, the mayor pledged to use all “legal and political means” to stop the establishment of Fudan University in Budapest.

Affiliated to another institution by the same name in Shanghai, its reopening is set for 2024. Its facilities can host 8,000 post-graduate students studying medicine, engineering and business courses.

If completed, it will be the first ever Chinese University in Europe, but it is going to cost $1.8 billion to construct with a loan from China and Hungary’s opposition politicians think the country shouldn’t take a loan.

Dalai Lama

This file photo taken on September 15, 2016 shows the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama, gesturing as he arrives for a meeting with young people in Strasbourg. 

Photo credit: Patrick Hertzog | AFP

Key matters

The names the mayor picked all refer to sensitive issues in China.

The Dalai Lama, a spiritual leader from Tibet in China, lives in exile in India, but is influential to a group of people in Tibet, over which China has sought to exert influence. Beijing has labelled him a separatist.

In the past, China has lobbied countries not to provide audience to the Dalai Lama.

The bishop who died in 2005 was also in and out of trouble with Chinese law for running an ‘underground’ Catholic church.

In Hong Kong, another autonomous region of China, Beijing has faced protests from those who feel the region should have a separate freer democratic system.

China’s crackdown including the jailing of some activists, has largely been condemned by the West, including the European Union.

In Xinjiang, China’s north-western region, the US and allies have accused Beijing of violating human rights of the minority Uyghur Muslims in a counter-terrorism crackdown. Beijing denies the accusations.

“Cheap popularity”

Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, on Thursday, accused the Hungarian mayor of seeking cheap popularity for personal gain. He argued the decision by the mayor could hurt relations.

The naming of the streets was seen as a direct protest in Hungary by those unhappy with the country’s dalliance with China.

According to the mayor, the project depicts Hungary’s backing of a communist government in spite of Budapest’s long-held policy to oppose communism.

A rival of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has been in power since 2010, the mayor has been critical of Hungary’s ties with Beijing and Moscow.

The central European country, a member of the European Union, has also recently annoyed other members by vetoing decisions on China.

Hong Kong protests

Hong Kong supporters protest outside Staples Center ahead of the Lakers vs Clippers NBA season opener in Los Angeles on October 22, 2019.

Photo credit: Frederic J Brown | AFP

Beijing sanctions

On Friday, Miguel Berger, Germany’s State Secretary in the Foreign Office, claimed Hungary had refused to endorse an EU policy meant to sanction Beijing on the Hong Kong crackdown.

“Three weeks ago it was on Middle East. Common foreign and security policy cannot work on the basis of a blocking policy,” he wrote on his Twitter page.

“We need a serious debate on ways to manage dissent, including qualified majority voting.”

The EU had intended to issue a joint statement rebuking China’s security measures in Hong Kong, but Hungary’s veto meant there could be no consensus.

The EU usually decides on consensus rather than majority voting.

In public, Hungarian officials have defended ties with China and rejected the mayor’s decision as misplaced, according to Zoltán Kovács, the International spokesman, Cabinet Office of the Prime Minister.