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Budapest names street at planned Chinese university after jailed Chinese Catholic bishop

The liberal opposition mayor of Budapest announced on Wednesday he would rename streets in the Hungarian capital near a planned campus of a Chinese university to commemorate alleged human rights abuses by Beijing.

One street will be named after the late Chinese Catholic Bishop Xie Shiguang who spent 28 years of his life in a Chinese prison for refusing to denounce his allegiance to the pope in Rome.

The prelate, who died in 2005 at the age of 88, was first imprisoned from 1955 to 1956, then from 1958 to 1980, the third from August 1984 until 1987, and the fourth from 1990 to 1992.

He was underground bishop of Mingdong in the Diocese of Fujian when he died of leukemia on August 25, 2005.

The bishop was ordained to the priesthood on May 3, 1949, and was appointed bishop on January 25, 1984.

In October 1999, he was ”invited for a chat” with government representatives and was whisked away to an unknown location.

Released after two months, the bishop was kept under surveillance until his death.

Bishop Xie always refused government demands that he register officially with the Patriotic Association, the state body that controls churches in China.

Dalai Lama, Uyghur Martyrs, and Hong Kong streets

The other streets will be named after the Dalai Lama, exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, who has been labeled a dangerous separatist by Beijing.

Another will be called “Uyghur Martyrs’ Road” after the mainly Muslim ethnic group that Washington and other capitals say has been victim of a Chinese genocide, and the fourth will be called “Free Hong Kong Road.”

China denies repressing human rights. Phone calls to the press office at the Chinese embassy seeking comment were not answered.

Activists hold a Tibetan flag next to a sign in a street renamed ‘Dalai Lama,’ near the planned site of Chinese Fudan University campus, in Budapest, Hungary, on June 2, 2021. (Reuters photo)

The renamed streets will converge at an area where China’s Fudan University is planning to open a campus offering masters programs in liberal arts, medicine, business and engineering for 6,000 students with 500 faculty.

“This Fudan project would put in doubt many of the values that Hungary committed itself to 30 years ago” at the fall of Communism, said Mayor Gergely Karacsony, a liberal opposition figure who plans to run next year to unseat Viktor Orban, Hungary’s right-wing prime minister.

Orban’s liberal opponents accuse him of cozying up to China, Russia and other illiberal governments, while angering European allies by curbing the independence of the judiciary and media.

Central European University, Hungary’s leading private university, relocated most operations to neighboring Austria in 2019 after Orban’s government enacted legal changes that jeopardized its status and launched a public hate campaign against its founder, businessman George Soros.

Karacsony 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.

The government has defended the project: “The presence of Fudan University means that it will be possible to learn from the best in the world,” Tamas Schanda, deputy minister for innovation and technology said last week.

According to an opinion poll by liberal think tank Republikon Institute published on Tuesday, 66% of Hungarians oppose and 27% support the idea of the campus.

“Fudan has brought the topic of relations with China to the forefront of politics,” said Tamas Matura, a lecturer at Corvinus University and expert on China.

Orban has faced criticism over a deal to reconstruct the Budapest-Belgrade railway with a $2.1 billion Chinese loan, and for his fast-track approval of a Chinese coronavirus vaccine which still has not been approved in the EU. His government says the Chinese doses have helped accelerate the vaccine program, and the road funding will improve Hungary’s transport links. – with Reuters

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