Hungary backtracks on Chinese university campus in Budapest

Hungary appeared to backtrack on plans to build a Chinese university in Budapest after thousands took to the streets at the weekend against it, news wires reported. PM Viktor Orban opponents accuse his governmemnt that the planned $2bn campus could undercut the quality of higher education and help Beijing increase its influence within Hungary and the EU.

A senior Orban aide said late on Sunday the university was not even at the planning phase, and once the plan took shape, in early 2023, it could be put to a referendum. "Once the project's conditions are known, we support a referendum in Budapest to decide whether locals want Fudan University here," Gergely Gulyas, Orban's chief of staff, told the pro-government news web site Mandiner late on Sunday.

According to media reports, the government was willing to pay for the construction of Shanghai-based Fudan University's first campus in Europe with a Chinese loan. The campus would displace a planned local student housing area. Public support for the campus is low, according to an opinion survey conducted last month, and Orban's ruling Fidesz party has weak support in Budapest, so a referendum could turn out against the project.

Political observers say Orban could decide to bide his time on Fudan and return to the idea after the election. "It is hallmark Fidesz to take two steps back to wait until the issue loses political steam, then attempt it again when it is more convenient politically," Political Capital analyst Peter Kreko said. 

Orban has abandoned unpopular projects before, such as a tax on internet traffic, a separate administrative court system and plans to privatise marinas at Lake Balaton.

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