- 8 Jan 2014 8:00 AM
Responding to an inquiry of this daily, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said the date of the meeting is being sought by the two sides. It is certain that during a Central and Eastern Europe [CEE]–PR of China top-level consultation in Bucharest in November 2013, Li Keqiang spoke of a possible meeting with Orbán.
In summer 2013 Orbán canceled a scheduled visit to Beijing in the last minute to speak during a discussion of the Tavares report in the European Parliament in Brussels. Our sources indicate that the rash cancelation affronted the Chinese side because such moves are seen as a faux pas in Asian diplomatic practice. For some time it was uncertain if Li Keqiang would receive Orbán in Beijing any time soon.
During the Bucharest meeting the prime ministers of Hungary, the PR of China and Serbia signed an agreement on modernizing the Budapest–Belgrade railroad line.
China offered to set up a fund of USD 10 billion to upgrade infrastructure in the CEE region in Warsaw during a similar top-level meeting in 2012.
Responding to this daily’s inquiry about the agreement on railroad development, the Hungarian Prime Minister’s Office disclosed that Chinese delegates had joined a Hungarian–Serbian working group to prepare the project.
Says the PMO: “A few days after the Bucharest meeting, Chinese railroad experts arrived in Hungary and Serbia to clarify technical questions. Negotiations have begun on timing, technical parameters and the conditions of financing. The next task is to draw up a feasibility study for the entire length of the railroad.”
On the Hungarian side the office of government commissioner Péter Szijjártó is tasked with the preparations of the project; the Hungarian Development Bank Pte. Ltd. (MFB Zrt) is in charge of issues related to financing, and transport-related issues are handled by MÁV Hungarian Railways.
The PMO is considering several possible routes and the decision will factor in technical, transport and efficiency aspects.
The total length of tracks between Budapest and Belgrade is 374 km, of which 40 km have already been retrofitted in Serbia. The tasks now are to establish a double track railroad along 334 km, to electrify the line and make it suitable for high-speed traffic. The total cost is estimated in ballpark of USD 2.89 billion.
In an unrelated development, Hungary and the PR of China have agreed to turn Budapest the touristic hub of the CEE region for China. Of that question the PMO has written to Népszabadság that the dynamic growth in the number of Chinese tourists and in their overnight stays in Hungary could have been a factor in the Chinese decision. Hungary will promote cooperation between the China National Tourist Office and the national tourist agencies of the 16 countries concerned; will broaden the exchange of information, set up databases and organize tourist programs, the PMO wrote.
Commenting on these developments, István Újhelyi (MP, Hungarian Socialist Party) – who has done a lot to promote Hungarian–Chinese relations in recent years – has told us that his party favored the railroad projects and cooperation in tourism. Indeed Újhelyi has had several rounds of talks covering those issues. A resident of Szeged, Újhelyi would like the route of the railroad to cross Szeged because, as he put it, “Szeged is Hungary’s gateway to Serbia.”
Translated by Budapest Telegraph