Hungary’s Orban concludes Beijing ‘peace mission 3.0’ go to

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban departed Beijing en route for Washington on Monday after meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping on a self-proclaimed “peace mission 3.0.”

Orban’s visit to the Chinese capital came after his recent trips to Kyiv and Moscow, where he attempted to position himself as a mediator pushing for an end to the ongoing Russian war in Ukraine.

What did Orban say in Beijing?

Orban emphasized China’s role as a “key power in creating the conditions for peace” in the conflict which began as far back as 2014 but erupted into full-scale war when Russia launched an all-out invasion of its neighbor in February 2022.

In an interview with German tabloid newspaper BILD published on Monday to coincide with his Beijing visit, Orban repeated his calls for a cease-fire and warned of further escalation in the conflict in the coming months.

“Believe me: the next two or three months will be much more brutal than we think,” he said in comments which will have been made directly on the back of his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin and before his arrival in China.

“There are more weapons [involved] and the Russians are more determined. The energy in the confrontation, the number of dead, the number of victims will become more brutal than in the last seven months.”

He insisted that he is “not arguing about who is right and who is wrong” and his “aim is peace and a cease-fire.”

What did Xi say?

China’s President Xi, for his part, used Orban’s visit to call on the international community to “create conditions and provide assistance for the two sides to resume direct dialogue and negotiations,” according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.

“Only when all major powers exert positive energy rather than negative energy can the dawn of a ceasefire in this conflict appear as soon as possible,” he reportedly said.

Despite Xi’s calls for peace, China didn’t take part in the recent Ukraine-led international summit in Switzerland, preferring instead to promote its own six-point peace plan, issued together with Brazil in May and which Moscow has supported.

China presents itself as a neutral party in the war, but strategic relations with Russia have strengthened since the invasion. Beijing has offered a crucial lifeline to Russia’s increasingly isolated economy, purchasing large quantities of Russian natural gas albeit at reduced prices.

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How did the EU react to Orban’s trips?

Orban is the only European Union leader to have maintained close relations with Putin since Russia’s full-scale invasion. He has refused to send weapons to Ukraine and has regularly opposed and challenged EU support for Kyiv.

Hungary took over the rotating presidency of the EU earlier this month but, as Orban left Beijing on Monday, German vice-chancellor Robert Habeck echoed other European leaders in insisting that the Hungarian populist does not speak for the bloc.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said Orban’s recent trip to Russia was purely a bilateral affair and he “has not received any mandate from the EU Council to visit Moscow.”

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Orban’s Hungary deepening ties with China

China has continued to deepen economic ties with Hungary, which has remained open to Chinese investment despite EU sanctions imposed on Beijing, in particular on imports of Chinese-made electric vehicles.

While the EU is trying to reduce its dependence on the world’s second-largest economy, which it fears could undercut European economies by flooding the market with cheap goods, the Hungarian foreign minister claimed that Chinese investment in Hungary’s electromobility sector could create 25,000 jobs.

Since returning to power in Budapest in 2010, Orban has been seeking closer economic ties to China, Russia and other Asian countries as part of his “eastern opening” foreign policy.

The Hungarian government recently boasted of ongoing economic projects originating in China worth around €15 billion ($16bn).

mf,dh/lo (AFP, dpa, Reuters)