Monday

22nd Apr 2019

US warns Hungary on Chinese and Russian corruption

  • Mike Pompeo (r) with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban in Budapest on Monday (Photo: state.gov)

The US has warned Hungary that Chinese and Russian "corruption" posed a national security threat.

But Hungary accused the EU of "hypocrisy" on Chinese and Russian trade in return.

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The US warning came on the first leg of a trip to EU capitals and Iceland by US secretary of state Mike Pompeo in Budapest on Monday (11 February).

The US would "share" with Hungary information on "the risks that Huawei's presence in their networks presents ... risks to their own people, to the loss of privacy protections", he told press at the US embassy in the Hungarian capital.

Huawei is a Chinese telecommunications firm which owns 70 percent of the Hungarian market and aims to build a new hub there.

But it has been suspected of espionage in the US, Germany, and Poland and it posed a risk for US-Hungarian security cooperation, Pompeo, the former head of the US intelligence agency, the CIA, added.

"It makes it more difficult for America to be present [in Hungary]," he said.

"If that [Chinese] equipment is co-located in places where we have important American systems, it makes it more difficult for us to partner alongside them," Pompeo said.

Hungary is also buying a €12bn nuclear power plant from Russia, posing further risks, the US top diplomat noted.

"An authoritarian Russia will never be a friend to the freedom and sovereignty of smaller nations," he told press after meeting Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto.

A US official told press earlier on Friday that Pompeo would share intelligence with Hungary on Chinese and Russian operations.

"The corruption problem [in Hungary] creates pathways for Russian and Chinese influence," the US official said.

"One of the initiatives that we'll be unveiling is US support for efforts to look more closely at the intersections between corruption and Russian and Chinese influence," the official added.

Pompeo also met with three Hungarian NGOs in Budapest on Monday, one of which, K-Monitor, warned him that "political corruption infiltrates the entire [Hungarian] economy".

"This not only erodes democratic values but might also pose a national security threat," K-Monitor's director, Sandor Lederer, said.

Pompeo's tour also includes Bratislava, Warsaw, Brussels, and Reykjavik.

"The Chinese are creating ... the potential, should they wish to do so in the future, to use military capabilities in the Arctic," the US official said on Friday, referring to the geopolitical importance of Iceland.

"The Chinese and Russians are a couple of steps ahead of the United States and European Union in realising the strategic importance of the Arctic as a resource zone," the official said.

Pompeo also met Hungarian leader Viktor Orban in Budapest.

"I do expect us to see the secretary raise with prime minister Orban the problem that we have with his interactions with [Russian president] Vladimir Putin," the US official said.

The Hungarian NGOs also expected Pompeo to raise concerns on Orban's crackdown on independent judges, civil society, and free press.

US diplomacy

The US secretary did little of either in his public remarks with Szijjarto.

The US and Hungary would "frankly discuss areas where we disagree in a manner that befits allies," was all he said on Orban's illiberal rule.

But for his part, the Hungarian foreign minister gave little sign of heeding the US on China and Russia despite Pompeo's diplomacy.

"When it comes to cooperation with Russia or cooperation with the People's Republic of China, that does not harm us being a reliable, or doesn't endanger us being a reliable ally to the United States and to Nato," Szijjarto told press.

He accused Britain and Germany of "hypocrisy" on China due to their own deals with Huawei.

He also complained of wider "hypocrisy and political correctness in the European political arena" on Russia amid Germany's plan to build a new gas pipeline with Russia called Nord Stream 2.

"It's not the Hungarian and it's not the central European energy companies which are preparing and building Nord Stream 2 together with Gazprom [a Russian state firm]," Szijjarto said.

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MEPs who launched a procedure examining the democratic situation in Hungary last year now want member states to step up efforts. The government in Budapest meanwhile accuses MEPs of attacking Hungary over migration.

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EU foot-dragging puts rule of law at risk in Hungary, Poland

The European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, has yet to be heard on the forced eviction of the Central European University from Budapest to Vienna. Just months before crucial European parliament elections, EU leaders should not shy away from this debate.

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