September 28, 2023

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This is how the eastern opening should have been done

Building relationships is important, but turning it into an ideology is not worth it, Máté Szalai believes.

Victor Orban Already He spoke about it in 2010, that the wind is blowing from the east in world politics, and that Hungary must adapt, even if it sails under the flag of the West. In 2011, Hungary officially became a “global opening” destination when it was newly released. Hungarian Foreign Policy after the EU Presidency In a document It seemed to be a priority not only to the East but also to various parts of the world.

The project, originally announced for economic reasons, has since become a symbol of the government’s foreign policy as an opening to the east, and remains strong. Politicized. Government experts appreciate it and allow minor criticism of it, on the other hand, the opposition considers it a complete failure or ridiculous, based on interests and values. This was especially true after the outbreak of the Russo-Ukrainian war, when the opening to the East became practically equivalent to the pro-Russian Hungarian position – in European terms.

In this politicized environment, it is difficult to draw a true balance, even if useful for the future of Hungarian foreign policy. Instead of calculating foreign trade rates, it is worth approaching the problem from a strategic perspective. From this point of view, Hungary’s opening to regions outside Europe is fundamentally understandable, useful and inevitable, but at the same time, in the form it was perceived, it turned out to be problematic from several angles. .

In defense of universal opening

Hungary’s foreign policy strategy in the three government cycles following the regime change was determined with different weights, but the same three goals (or orientation): Euro-Atlantic commitment, neighborhood policy striving for good relations and the security border of Hungarian societies. Although Budapest’s focus was linked to NATO and EU accession, the area outside Europe (except Russia) played a lesser role. At the same time, the transatlantic integration of our country was completed in 2004, which not only achieved the first foreign policy goal, but also gave serious success in the second: our neighbors became our allies, and the EU membership created a new one. Opportunities to build relationships between Hungarian communities.

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After that, it was natural and necessary for Hungary to focus more on areas outside of Europe and to define its role in the global space. As a member of the European Union and NATO, we have become members of the societies that determine world politics, and to participate responsibly in these two organizations, it is necessary to deal more with the world outside Europe. Additionally, in the 21st century, the international political agenda is often determined by global challenges such as climate change, terrorism or regional conflicts. And, most recently with the 2008 financial crisis, it became clear that the US-dominated world order was undergoing a shift. This does not automatically mean that the “West” is falling, power in world politics is more and more concentrated around the poles, Washington cannot and does not want to enforce its interests around the world, and the ethical foundations of the order it maintains are being questioned.

Therefore, the global opening was more due to the change in the geopolitical situation of our country. This is evidenced by the fact that the new foreign policy direction has already been announced by the Kyrgyz government: In 2008 Foreign Relations Strategy Taking on a responsible role in world politics was included in the earlier priorities. Of course, only the government that came to power in 2010 was able to fill it with content, so the following criticisms basically apply to this period.

To do, not to declare

The first and most important problem with the policy of universal openness is that it should not be announced – only done. Areas outside of Europe are assessed not only in Hungarian foreign policy, but also in the foreign policy of most EU member states, and in fact many of them started this process much earlier than ours. The government is right that a competition has developed in building relations with emerging economic powers, but at the same time, it does not necessarily develop strong foreign policies to participate.

Of course, logic makes sense that we should overcome the competitive disadvantage of our delay by announcing the global launch as a PR campaign, but in practice we don’t see that we would have gained any advantage by doing so. On the other hand, it certainly had a downside – on the one hand, it created mistrust at home and abroad, and on the other hand, the importance of global opening rose to such a strategic level that it automatically politicized the issue. Domestically and abroad.

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Let’s stick to foreign trade without turning it into ideology

Although opening to the East was originally heralded as a foreign economic concept rather than a foreign policy concept, it became more and more ideological. The deterioration of our relations with our transatlantic allies was paralleled by, for example, close Hungarian-Turkish, Hungarian-Russian and Hungarian-Chinese relations.

This opening was justified by an undoubted shift in the centers of gravity of the global economy, but increasingly by a kind of liberal solidarity that united organizations and leaders criticized (and often looked down upon) by the US-European mainstream.

Kremlin / MTI – Meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Moscow on February 1, 2022.

This position is very difficult to defend from a foreign policy strategic perspective. You can (and should) criticize the European mainstream, you can build relationships, but there is not much to gain from an ideological approach to such a society. Apart from the clamor of liberals and progressives (and excessive criticism from the US and EU), it is difficult to see common interests between Hungary and the members of the “liberal club”. Macron The case of the French president and Victor Orbán shows that it is possible to approach each other even without ideological connection.

Global opening instead of East-West opposition

In this regard, it is a misrepresentation of international politics to constantly emphasize the “West-East” opposition that the government and the opposition have built together. In Hungary, this story also flows from the tap, and although it is a more complex discourse, I have used these words. “West” and “East” are ill-defined concepts that are used to blur many countries with different interests and values ​​and to create a common perception of them. It is also understandable that many often refer to NATO and the European Union as Western countries (in this case Turkey should be considered a Western country, and not Switzerland), but the confusion of Eastern states is incomprehensible.

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It is critical of the opposition’s public discourse as well as of the government’s policy of opening up to the East. Seen from Europe, China may be joined by Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Russia and India (to name just a few countries), but these are states with very different cultures and different policies. They do not form a unified bloc, and confusing them with one another (be it authoritarian rule or backwardness) is not only simplistic, but often has racist overtones.

It is not the “East” that is challenging the “West”, but China competing with the US. Not Eastern dictatorships, but Russia or North Korea, for example. It is not “the East” that is rising, but Singapore or Vietnam.

The dominance of this discourse in Hungary is largely due to the government’s narrative of opening to the East. Of course, it has its historical roots, but the confusion of belonging to the West or the East was much more understandable in the 19th and 20th centuries than it is today. To avoid such simplifications, the Hungarian government would have been better off sticking to the terminology of global opening, which better covers what it wants to do: opening to African, Latin American and other countries in addition to Asia.

Benco Vivian Cher / Prime Minister’s Press Office / MTI – Prime Minister Viktor Orbán will receive State Counselor Wang Jie, Director of the Central Committee for Foreign Affairs of the Chinese Communist Party, on February 19, 2023.

Execution, execution, execution

The aforementioned conceptual problems and lack of forethought manifested in implementation problems. The politicization and sensitivity of the opening to the East not only overburdened diplomats but also led to the need to prove. Many elements of the startup policy (trading houses, charters) proved to be wrong, which took a lot of energy and money. There is little room for precise designation of bottom-up initiatives and priorities. Hungary cannot open up to the whole world at once, but neither can the great powers.

Because of these mistakes, it is important for this or the next government to realistically review the policy of openness, especially in the context of heightened geopolitical tensions. It will not serve our country’s interests to leave it unchanged or throw it away without thinking, but both sides must change their approach to this dialogue.