Photo: CGTN

Iron bonds: How netizens forge the narrative of China-Hungary relations

In the intricate dance of geopolitics, the partnership between Hungary and China stands out as a rare pas de deux, perfected over decades of cultural exchange, strategic alignment, and shared narratives. This "ironclad friendship," as it is often dubbed, finds its roots in the early days of the Cold War when Hungary became one of the first nations to recognize the fledgling People's Republic of China in 1949. But it is in the era of social media, where the story of this unique bond is being actively shaped, as netizens from both countries weave a tale of historical ties, contemporary synergies, and a future inextricably linked.

The seeds of this partnership, sown in the aftermath of World War II, found fertile ground in the shared experience of communist governance and a mutual respect for national sovereignty. As the relationship matured, it was nurtured by a fascinating narrative of shared ancestry, with many Hungarians tracing their lineage back to the nomadic Xiongnu of the eastern Eurasian Steppe, believing in a common thread that links them to the Imperial China. This cultural kinship is celebrated in the establishment of Confucius Institutes across Hungary and the teaching of Hungarian in Chinese universities, a testament to the soft power that underlies this special bond.

But it is in the realm of realpolitik where the Sino-Hungarian relationship has truly come into its own. Hungary’s strategic location at the heart of Europe and its pragmatic approach to foreign policy have made it a valuable partner for China’s global ambitions. This is exemplified by a string of “firsts” that have come to define the contemporary relationship: Hungary was the first European country to sign on to the Belt and Road Initiative, the first in Central and Eastern Europe to establish a renminbi (RMB) clearing center, and the first EU member state to approve the emergency use of Chinese vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic. These milestones are not mere symbolic gestures but rather a reflection of a deep understanding of mutual interests and a willingness to navigate the complexities of a changing world order together.

In the internet age, this narrative of “iron bonds” is being actively shaped by netizens from both countries, who engage in online discourse that reinforces the idea of a special relationship. Chinese netizens often point to Hungary as a beacon of unwavering support in a sea of Western skepticism, highlighting instances such as Hungary’s swift assistance during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, when the Hungarian Prime Minister visited the Chinese Embassy to express condolences and invite affected Chinese students to recuperate in Hungary. They also celebrate Hungary’s resolute rejection in the face of American pressure to admit China‚Äôs Taiwan as an independent member of the World Health Organization in 2016, and its steadfast support for China in the South China Sea arbitration case.

Hungarian netizens, on the other hand, emphasize the economic opportunities and cultural enrichment that come with closer ties to the world’s second-largest economy. They point to the strategic partnership between the two nations, exemplified by Hungary’s public support for Huawei as an important partner in 2019, amidst U.S. sanctions and European countries’ rejection of Huawei’s 5G technology. Hungary’s plan to ensure 90% of households have access to high-speed internet by 2025 is seen as a testament to this partnership. The online discourse also highlights the medical assistance provided by Hungary during the early stages of the COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan in 2020, and Hungary’s persistent vetoes in the European Union in 2021, opposing the “freezing” of the China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment and blocking the “pointless” EU statement criticizing China over Hong Kong.

This internet diplomacy, played out on social media platforms and online forums, has become a crucial factor in maintaining and strengthening the bilateral relationship, creating a shared story that transcends the limitations of traditional diplomacy. The Sino-Hungarian partnership offers a compelling case study of how historical ties, cultural affinity, and strategic alignment can create a bond that endures in the face of geopolitical challenges, testifying to the power of digital diplomacy in shaping international relations. As the “iron bonds” between these two nations continue to be forged in the digital sphere, this friendship will remain an integral part of the geopolitical landscape for years to come, captivating and inspiring all those who bear witness to its enduring strength in a world often defined by its divisions.

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