Hungarian leader Viktor Orban meets Xi in China after talks with Putin

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban met Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Beijing on Monday, courting another authoritarian partner after talks last week in Moscow with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.

In announcing Mr. Orban’s visit to Beijing, China’s official Xinhua news agency said only that Mr. Xi would hold “in-depth discussions with him on issues of mutual concern.” The leaders last met two months ago, when Mr. Xi visited Budapest as part of a push to restore Chinese influence in Europe.

Chinese state television said Mr Xi and Mr Orbán were holding talks at the Diaooyutai State Guesthouse, but gave no further details.

The meeting will give Mr. Xi and Mr. Orbán, an outlier in the European Union in support for Ukraine and other issues, a chance to urge the bloc to distance itself from Washington. Hungary began its six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union this month, giving Mr. Orbán a higher profile, though not much more influence, in broader European affairs.

“Our two countries, China and Hungary, have similar philosophies and both value independence and acting on their own initiative,” Xi told Orban in May, according to an official Chinese summary of their talks.

Western European leaders have long distanced themselves from Mr. Orban, and when he visited Moscow last week they stressed that he was not speaking on behalf of the European Union. They are likely to take a similarly skeptical view of Mr. Orban’s talks with Mr. Xi in Beijing, during which the two leaders are expected to discuss the war in Ukraine.

Mr. Orban’s visit to China comes ahead of a three-day NATO summit in Washington that begins Tuesday. At those talks, President Biden and other Western leaders are likely to offer Ukraine more support in its war against the Russian invasion, though not the NATO membership that its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has sought.

Mr. Orban described his trip to Beijing as a continuation of a “peace” mission for Ukraine, a term Hungary has used to describe a deal built on Ukrainian capitulation to Russian demands. His visit to Russia last week was the first time a European Union leader had been there for formal talks with Mr. Putin since the first months of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Before visiting Moscow, Mr. Orban met with Mr. Zelensky in Kiev, which observers saw as a move by the Hungarian leader to try to end his isolation in Europe over Ukraine. His visits to Ukraine, Russia and China were not announced in advance.

Mr Orbán has made broad calls for Moscow and Kiev to agree to a ceasefire and direct talks, but has not issued any specific public proposals for a lasting solution.

Similarly, Mr. Xi has promoted a vague framework for peace talks between Ukraine and Russia, while remaining careful to maintain strong ties with Mr. Putin. Chinese troops will take part in military exercises in Belarus, a neighbor and close partner of Russia, in mid-July, China’s Ministry of National Defense announced on Sunday. The ministry said the joint exercises would focus on “anti-terrorism” operations and hostage rescue.

The talks between Orbán and Xi Jinping will provide them with a further opportunity to underline their shared antipathy to Western security alliances and criticism of human rights.

Mr. Orban, once a critic of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, has become a steadfast partner. He often pushes back against European Union criticism of China’s tough policies in Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang, the western region where Uighurs and other largely Muslim ethnic groups have faced mass detentions.

In May, Mr Xi and Mr Orbán officially upgraded China-Hungary relations to a “comprehensive and all-weather strategic partnership,” Chinese diplomatic terminology that suggests a deep and enduring bond.

“We regard ourselves as a priority partner for cooperation,” Mr Xi wrote at the time regarding relations with Hungary.

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