July 13, 2024

Hungary’s Orban holds talks with Xi during surprise Beijing visit, days after meeting Putin

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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing Monday, days after a controversial visit to Moscow and another to Kyiv that the far-right European leader described as a “peace mission.”

Orban, who has been widely criticized in the West for his Russia-friendly positioning amid Moscow’s onslaught on Ukraine, posted a photo of his arrival at a Beijing airport with the caption “Peace mission 3.0” on social media platform X.

Talks between the two leaders at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing focused on “in-depth communication” on the war in Ukraine, according to a readout published by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.

Orban’s previously unannounced visit comes a day before the start of a NATO summit in Washington, where US President Joe Biden will host leaders from the bloc, which includes Hungary, and rally continued support for Ukraine’s defense. Orban’s spokesperson on Monday said Washington would be the leader’s next stop after Beijing.

China, Russia’s most important diplomatic ally, is also expected to be on the agenda of that gathering. NATO leaders have become increasingly alarmed about what they say is its backing for Moscow’s war effort through the provision of dual-use goods and other economic and diplomatic support.

Beijing has said it has not provided weapons to either side of the conflict and defended what it calls its strict controls on dual-use exports.

China claims neutrality in the war and has also sought to posit itself as a potential peace broker in the conflict, even as Xi has deepened his allegiance with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the more than two years since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The two most recently hailed their close ties during a meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit last week in Kazakhstan.

During talks with Orban Monday, Xi reiterated Beijing’s call for a ceasefire in Ukraine, according to CCTV.

That longstanding call from Beijing has been criticized in the West as positioned to help Russia consolidate illegal territorial gains as it comes without first stipulating that Moscow’s troops withdraw from Ukrainian territory.

Orban, widely seen as Putin’s greatest ally in Europe, has also been campaigning for a ceasefire as opposed to military support for Ukraine.

China is a “key power in creating the conditions for peace” in the war, Orban wrote in an X post Monday. “This is why I came to meet with President Xi in Beijing, just two months after his official visit to Budapest,” he added.

During the meeting, Xi claimed that China and Hungary have the “same basic propositions and directions of efforts” on Ukraine and appeared to allude to Beijing’s accusations that the United States and its allies are “fanning” the conflict by providing Kyiv with weapons for its defense.

“Only when all major powers exert positive energy rather than negative energy can the conflict see the dawn of a ceasefire as soon as possible,” Xi said, according to CCTV.

Orban’s visit to Beijing and his stops last week in Russia and Ukraine come just a week after Budapest assumed the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union – a position that has been looked on skeptically by many leaders across the bloc, where Orban is widely seen as illiberal outlier.

It also comes amid ongoing concern – and deep divisions – about how and when the war in Ukraine will be resolved, nearly two and half years after Russia’s full-scale invasion began.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was among European leaders to criticize Orban’s decision to travel to Moscow and meet with Putin last week – the first such visit from an EU leader since April 2022 – saying “appeasement will not stop” Putin.

“Only unity and determination will pave the path to a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine,” she added.

Orban and Putin last week said they discussed ways to end the conflict in Ukraine, with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg later telling reporters that Orban would likely brief other NATO leaders on those talks in Washington.

Orban’s visit to Moscow followed his stop in Kyiv earlier last week, when the Hungarian leader said he had asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to think about a ceasefire “first” to “speed up peace talks” – a proposal dismissed by Zelensky’s office. The embattled country has called for a restoration of its territory as a condition of peace.

Orban and Xi last met in May, when the Chinese leader was welcomed with fanfare for a state visit to Hungary.

Then, Orban defied a mood of mounting European concern about a security threat posed by Beijing to upgrade the countries’ ties to an “all-weather comprehensive strategic partnership.”

Xi hailed that “successful” outcome during Monday’s meeting and reiterated his wish that Hungary during its EU Council presidency would play an “active role” in promoting the “healthy and stable development” of China-EU relations.

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