The mayor of Budapest has renamed streets in the Hungarian capital to demonstrate his disapproval of plans to build a Chinese university in the city.
The new street names focus on alleged human rights abuses committed by China and include Free Hong Kong Road and Dalai Lama Street, reports the BBC.
They are all in the area where Fudan University plans to open its new branch, a move backed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government.
Currently derelict, the campus will occupy a half-million-square-metre complex by 2024, according to a deal signed between Hungary and the Shanghai-based university’s president.
Liberal mayor Gergely Karacsony has voiced concerns about “Chinese influence-buying” in Hungary.
There is growing unease among Orban’s critics about his closeness to countries including Russia, China and Belarus, as well as his curbs on independence of the media and higher education.
Fudan University is one of China’s most prestigious educational institutions. The campus in Budapest will be its first site in the European Union.
“We still hope the project won’t happen, but if it does then it will have to put up with these street names,” Karacsony told a press conference.
The names all celebrate causes Beijing is sensitive about.
Dalai Lama Street directs attention to Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, called a dangerous separatist by Beijing.
Free Hong Kong Road supports the Hong Kong democracy movement, which has seen huge and long-lasting protests against Beijing’s power in Hong Kong.
Uyghur Martyrs’ Road, marks the mainly Muslim ethnic group that international governments say has been the victim of sustained human rights abuses and genocide in Xinjiang, China.
Bishop Xie Shiguang Road refers to a persecuted Chinese Catholic priest.
“This Fudan project would put in doubt many of the values that Hungary committed itself to 30 years ago at the fall of Communism,” the mayor said. “We don’t want the elite and private Fudan university here at the expense of Hungarian taxpayers.”
Documents obtained by Direkt36, a Hungarian investigative-journalism outlet, show that construction costs are expected to be around US$1.8 billion which is more than the Orban government spent on its entire higher-education system in 2019.
US$1.5 billion of the costs will be provided by a loan from a Chinese bank, the documents showed.
At least two thirds of Hungarians do not support the Chinese university, according to liberal think tank Republikon Institute.
But Tamas Schanda, Hungary’s deputy minister for innovation and technology, said last week that the university “means that it will be possible to learn from the best in the world”.
Critics, however, portray Orban as China and Russia’s “Trojan horse” inside the European Union and Nato.