US media is reporting that China is expanding its influence in Eastern Europe using Hungarian and Serbian universities. According to an RFE/RL report:
May 11, 2021 With a Chinese university project in Hungary drawing controversy over a lack of transparency and concerns about academic freedom, Beijing’s influence in higher education in neighboring Serbia continues to grow. A strategic agreement signed between Hungary and Shanghai’s prestigious Fudan University in April made international headlines and sparked a backlash at home. The decision to build a Budapest campus by 2024 using a $1.5 billion loan from a Chinese bank put a spotlight on Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s close ties to Beijing and raised concerns about the long-term impact of such a project on the country’s higher-education system.
But in Serbia — where Beijing enjoys a close relationship with President Aleksandar Vucic and has been steadily deepening its ties over the last two decades — growing cooperation with Chinese universities and schools continues unabated. Currently, three Serbian universities — the University of Belgrade, the University of Novi Sad, and the University of Nis — have signed a cooperation agreement with Shanghai’s Jiao Tong University, opening the door to deepening educational and cultural bonds between Serbia and China. The agreements, which were signed in 2018, set up broad terms for cooperation that can grow deeper over time. They include new student and staff exchanges and scholarships, as well as growing Chinese financial support and Chinese-language classes.
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In April, we reported that even though most of Europe has blocked Huawei’s ability to build 5G infrastructure, China’s influence in Europe is still increasing through academic partnerships. Other recent GIOR reporting on China’s influence operations in Eastern Europe has included:
- In May, we recommended a study assessing China’s soft power in 17 European countries, including Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Romania.
- In May, we reported that the director of a Confucius Institute in Slovakia tried to intimidate a local China expert shortly after he had published a survey exposing the Chinese presence at Slovak universities.
- In May, we reported that China is laundering its propaganda in the Czech Republic through local ‘alternative media’ disinformation outlets.