Pompeo in Hungary on five-nation tour to warn Central Europe about China and Russia

  • A US official said the aim of the top diplomat’s trip is to ‘wrong-foot the West’s rivals in places where they have gained bridgeheads’
  • Warnings will include one about Huawei, as Chinese firm spreads across the region
PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 February, 2019, 9:54pm
UPDATED : Monday, 11 February, 2019, 9:54pm

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in Hungary on the first leg of a five-nation European tour during which he will raise concerns about China and Russia’s growing influence in Central Europe.

Pompeo was meeting in Budapest on Monday Hungary’s nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban and other senior officials to stress the importance of promoting democracy and the rule of law. The US sees those as key to countering Russian and Chinese efforts to pull Hungary and other countries in the region away from the West and sow division in the European Union and Nato, officials said.

Pompeo will specifically point to Central Europe’s reliance on Russian energy and the presence of the Chinese hi-tech telecoms firm Huawei, particularly in Hungary, according to the officials, who were not authorised to publicly discuss Pompeo’s travel and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

US officials are deeply troubled by Huawei’s expansion in Europe, especially in Nato member states where they believe it poses significant information security threats.

We have to show up [in Hungary] or expect to lose

Pompeo will take the same message to his next stop, Slovakia, on Tuesday, before heading to Poland, where he will participate in a conference on the future of the Middle East expected to focus on Iran. He will wrap up the tour with brief stops in Belgium and Iceland.

Before his visits to Budapest and Bratislava, US officials said Pompeo hoped to reverse what they called a decade of US disengagement in Central Europe that created a vacuum Russia and China have exploited. Over the past 10 years, the officials said, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leaders have become much more aggressive in the region and made inroads.


One official said Pompeo’s aim is to “wrong-foot the West’s rivals in places where they have gained bridgeheads”.

President Donald Trump’s administration has made a point of reaching out to Orban, who shares Trump’s strong stance on limiting immigration and has adopted increasingly authoritarian measures, including cracking down on the opposition, trade unions, independent media and academia.

Former US president Barack Obama’s administration largely steered clear of Orban, who won a third consecutive term last year in a campaign based on anti-immigration policies which have been met with concern by some EU members.

Orban on Sunday announced a programme to encourage women to have more children and reverse Hungary’s population decline. He said the initiative is meant to “ensure the survival of the Hungarian nation”.

“This is the Hungarians’ answer, not immigration,” he said.

Last month, Orban said he wanted “anti-immigration forces” to become a majority in all EU institutions, including its parliament and the European Commission, and predicted there would soon be two civilisations in Europe – one “that builds its future on a mixed Islamic and Christian coexistence” and another in Central Europe that would be only Christian.

Orban’s fiery rhetoric against immigrants and refusal to join a new European Union public prosecutor’s office focusing on fraud and corruption also have raised concerns.

Human rights groups and others have lamented Pompeo’s plans to meet Orban and urged him to take a strong stance against his policies, which they consider worrisome.

The US officials defended the Budapest stop, saying it is impossible to promote US positions and interests in Hungary effectively without meeting Orban.

“We have to show up or expect to lose,” one official said.

Source: SCMP


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