Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony, a staunch rival of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, says he will rename streets surrounding the future campus of a Chinese university after victims of alleged human rights abuses by Beijing.
The planned Budapest campus of China's Fudan University has been a bone of contention between the liberal mayor and the government of the right-wing populist prime minister, with the former accusing the latter of cozying up to China at the expense of the Hungarian taxpayers.
Orban is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and has maintained close ties with China and other authoritarian regimes, while prompting the fury of the European Union by curbing the independence of the judiciary and media.
According to the mayor's plan, one street will be renamed after the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, considered a dangerous separatist by China.
Another will be called "Uyghur Martyrs Road" after the mainly Muslim ethnic group that the West says has been victims of a Chinese genocide. A third street will be called "Free Hong Kong Road," while a fourth street will be renamed after a jailed Chinese Catholic bishop.
"This Fudan project would put in doubt many of the values that Hungary committed itself to 30 years ago" after the fall of communism, said Karacsony, who plans to run next year to unseat Orban.
He told reporters the Chinese campus would cost Hungarian taxpayers nearly $2 billion and went against an earlier deal with the government to build dormitories and facilities for Hungarian students in the district.
China's Fudan University is planning to open a campus offering masters programs in liberal arts, medicine, business, and engineering for 6,000 students.
Beijing has sharpened its focus on education and culture in recent years in a new phase of Chinese engagement in Europe.
The Central European University, Hungary's leading private university, was forced to leave the country and relocate most operations to Vienna in 2019 after Orban's government pushed legislation that drastically curbed its freedom and and launched a public hate campaign against its founder, U.S. billionaire philanthropist George Soros -- a Budapest native of Jewish origin.
An opinion poll published on June 1 by the liberal Republikon Institute think tank found 66 percent of Hungarians oppose the campus compared with support of 27 percent. Orban has also faced criticism for his fast-track approval of a Chinese coronavirus vaccine that has still not been approved in the EU.