China at the centre of US/Hungary passive aggressive spat

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has joined the European roadshow with the intention of lobbying other governments towards a China ban, but Hungary’s message is clear: mind your own business.

“We Hungarians, the Hungarian Government, has based our foreign policy on mutual respect, and we think that the world is not going to be a better place if some countries do spend their times by intervening in internal political affairs of other countries or lecturing other countries,” said Péter Szijjártó, the Hungarian Foreign Minister.

It’s a textbook example of political posturing and passive aggression. Szijjártó can’t get into an outright shouting match with Pompeo, but as so many politicians do Szijjártó is wearing a smile, talking calmly with very intellectual and soothing language. But don’t be fooled by the charm, Szijjártó is telling Pompeo to back off.

To understand why Szijjártó floating his passive aggressive skills, you must go back to Pompeo’s own comments.

“What’s imperative is that we share with them the things we know about the risks that Huawei’s presence in their networks presents: actual risks to their own people, to the loss of privacy protections for their own people, the risk that China will use this data in a way that is not the best interest of Hungary,” Pompeo stated.

“But second, we have seen this around the world, it also makes it more difficult for America to be present; that is, if that equipment is co-located in places where we have important American systems, it makes it more difficult for us to partner alongside them.”

In terms of getting their own way, US politicians are the experts at perfectly crafted passive aggressive rhetoric. Pompeo’s message is simple; you can of course make your own decision, but if you continue to do business with Huawei and China, you won’t find future success in the US. Pompeo is effectively using the economic attractiveness of the US as a partner as an indirect threat to bend Hungary to its will.

And China is once again at the centre of the spat.

To be fair, it should hardly come as a surprise the Hungarians are not particularly welcoming of the US politician. Yesterday, a US official described Eastern European governments as having a “higher propensity to corruption” than Western European counterparts. There are of course examples which prove this point but taking such a broad-brush approach to an incredibly diverse region of the world runs the risk of offending a few people. Hungary is clearly one of those nations which has taken exception to the remark.

The US has had some notable success in turning governments against Huawei specifically and China generally, Australia and Japan are two good examples, but in Europe there have been challenges. Various US delegations have been whispering in the ears of European politicians, warning of the dangers of doing business with Chinese companies, and while there might be some heightened security requirements, outright bans have been hard for the US to come by.

Hungary is now another which seems to be turning against the desires of the US.

“If you look at our cooperation with China, we represent 1.2” of the trade between the European Union and the People’s Republic of China,” said Szijjártó. “If you look at that Chinese company which is very often in the news nowadays regarding telecommunication, are they present in Hungary? Yes. Who are their major contractors? A German and a British company. So when it comes to China, I think hypocrisy should be left finally behind.

“We are usually accused, Central Europeans, that the so-called 16+1 format is so much breaking the European Union. Now out of the 16 countries involved in this cooperation, 11 are members of the European Union. Do you know how many percent of EU-China trade 11 of us represent? Less than 10 percent. So I think it’s not us that will be the game-changers in the relationship between, let’s say, the Western world and China.”

The US has certainly inflicted damage to Huawei as a business and China as a trading partner, but success in turning the European nations against the Asian superpower is looking limited right now. The US/China battle for international economic supremacy has certainly been an interesting one, though the current calming of tensions might just be rattling politicians into another outrightly aggressive move.

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