Chinese premier arrives in Budapest for regional summit, Tibetan flags not allowed

November 27, 2017

Zoltán Balog waving a Tibetan flag in front of the Parliament on May 8, 2008 | Photo: MTI/Balázs Mohai

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was personally greeted at the Budapest airport Sunday by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán ahead of a regional “16+1” summit between China and 16 Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries. The summit will run from Monday to Wednesday and include road closures and the major redirection of traffic in the capital as regional leaders meet with the premier for talks on the future of trade and commerce between China and CEE.

The talks will occur within the framework of both Hungary’s “Eastern Opening” economic strategy and China’s “New Silk Road” initiative of ports, railways and roads linking it with Africa and Europe. One expected topic on the agenda is the reconstruction of the Budapest-Belgrade railway, which has yet to begin due to several years of disagreements over which country will be permitted to undertake the construction work. Much of the project is set to be financed with a major Chinese loan.

Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó told state news agency MTI that it is a realistic goal for Hungary to become China’s main export partner in Central Europe, and it could also be a main target of Chinese investments in the region. Szijjártó said 23 bilateral agreements are expected to be signed between China and the 16 regional countries on the first day of the summit Monday, and the public procurement procedure for the Hungarian portion of the Budapest-Belgrade rail line is expected to be opened.

Free Tibet

The route of Li Keqiang’s motorcade was closed to traffic in Budapest Sunday, but numerous supporters were seen near the route waving Chinese flags.

One flag waver, who took his place near Deák tér in central Budapest, was apprehended by a half dozen police after he began waving a Tibetan flag as the Chinese premier’s convoy passed by. Tibor Hendrey, president of the Tibet Support Association Sambhala Tibet Center, was physically restrained by police and had the flag removed from his hands, after which he began to yell “Free Tibet!” at the motorcade.

Hendrey was involved in a nearly identical occurrence in 2012 when he was arrested for waving a Tibetan flag at Li Keqiang’s motorcade when he was China’s Senior Vice Premier. Hungary’s highest court the Curia ruled this summer that the police had violated Hendrey’s right to express his opinion, and ordered the Budapest Police to pay him HUF 500,000 (USD 1,900) with interest as well as legal fees.

Incidentally, Minister of Human Resources Zoltán Balog (Fidesz) himself waved a Tibetan flag at a press conference of the Tibet Support Association and Amnesty International in 2008 during a visit to Hungary by a Chinese delegation. Balog announced at the press conference that Fidesz, then in opposition, along with other opposition parties had submitted a resolution to the National Assembly for “the Hungarian Parliament to call on the People’s Republic of China to uphold respect for internationally accepted human rights and for the end to the use of force” against the people of Tibet. Balog also reportedly compared the 1956 Hungarian revolution with the Tibetan uprising of 1959.