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22nd Jun 2021

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Hungary gags EU ministers on China

  • Hungary has blocked a critical EU statement on China's policy towards Hong Kong (Photo: European Commission)

EU countries have shelved plans to issue a statement of moral support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong due to a Hungarian veto.

"Considering that the European Union has already accepted numerous statements regarding Hong Kong, the standpoint of the EU is clear for everyone by now," a Hungarian foreign ministry spokesman told EUobserver on Friday (7 May).

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"We believe that issuing a new statement on the subject is not necessary," he added.

"I don't think they [the Hungarians] had a specific problem with a certain part of the [draft] text. They thought [new EU] conclusions would only escalate relations with China in an unnecessary way," an EU diplomat said.

The Hong Kong communiqué was to have been issued by EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday.

The EU did criticise China's crackdown on Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters at a G7 meeting in London earlier this week.

And that prompted a rebuke by Beijing for "interfering" in its internal affairs.

Recent EU sanctions on China over its persecution of the Uighur minority also led to Chinese counter-sanctions and the collapse of a China-EU business treaty, which had been years in the making.

For its part, Hungary has a track record of vetoing or watering down EU criticism of China, Israel, and Russia, as well as European statements on LGBTIQ rights.

At the same time, Budapest is a major beneficiary of Chinese investment, such as the construction of a new university in Hungary.

"Regretfully, they [Hungary] chose China over the EU [as allies]," another EU diplomat said.

The foreign ministers will now avoid saying anything on Hong Kong, diplomats noted, while trying to talk Hungary around at a later date.

"It's off the table for now, we're waiting for better times", a contact said.

One alternative was for the Portuguese EU presidency to have spoken out in the name of Europe - a move which would not have required consensus.

But that would have put the EU's disunity on China on show in an unwanted way, sources noted.

"Some member states were against conclusions without Hungary, as this would undermine EU unity," a diplomat told EUobserver.

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