Liberal opponents of nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban have accused him of answering to the Chinese government and feared that the campus could undermine the quality of higher education and help Beijing increase its influence in Hungary and the European Union.
“I do not agree with the strengthening of our country’s feudal relations with China,” said Patrick, a 22-year-old student who declined to give his full name during a protest in the Hungarian capital.
He said the funds should be used “to improve our own universities instead of building Chinese ones.”
The government signed an agreement with Shanghai-based Fudan University in April to build a campus on the site in Budapest, where a dormitory for Hungarian students had previously been planned.
The government said Fudan was a world-class institution and the campus would “allow students to learn from the best.”
The Hungarian news agency MTI quoted Tamas Shanda, the government’s deputy minister, as saying Saturday’s protest was unnecessary. He also dismissed “political hysteria” based on unfounded gossip and media reports.
Opposition politicians and economists have criticized the high cost of the project and the lack of transparency.
“Fidesz is selling homes to Hungarian students and their future in bulk so that the elite university of the Chinese dictatorship can be brought into the country,” protest organizers said on Facebook on Saturday, citing Orban’s ruling right-wing party.
One street will be named after the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, while another will be named “The Way of the Uighur Martyrs” after the predominantly Muslim ethnic group that Washington and other capitals claim is a victim of Chinese genocide.
Two other streets will be named after protesters for democracy in Hong Kong and a Catholic bishop who was imprisoned in China.
Beijing said this week “several Hungarian politicians” were trying to attract attention and hamper co-operation between China and Hungary.
“This behavior is contemptuous,” said Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry.
Orban has built cordial ties with China, Russia and other illiberal governments, while locking the horns of Western allies, limiting the independence of research, the judiciary and the media.
“Hungary is blocking the EU statement on Hong Kong again. It was for the Middle East three weeks ago. The common foreign and security policy cannot work on the basis of a blocking policy,” German Foreign Minister Miguel Berger wrote on Twitter.
Orbán faces a united opposition at home for the first time since taking office in 2010 ahead of parliamentary elections in 2022.