Hungary quietly hosts Chinese minister days after EU human rights sanctions

BUDAPEST, March 25 (Reuters) - Hungary has been hosting China's defence minister for an official visit, Chinese television reported on Thursday, after Budapest criticised an EU decision to impose sanctions on Chinese officials over human rights.

The Hungarian government has said nothing in public about the visit of Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe, which also comes days after Budapest gave approval to a second Chinese-made COVID-19 vaccine without waiting for European regulators.

China Global Television Network (CGTN) published a report on its website early on Thursday, saying Fenghe met Hungarian President Janos Ader on Wednesday, as well as Deputy Prime Minister Zsolt Semjen and Defence Minister Tibor Benko.

The Hungarian government did not respond to Reuters questions about the visit.

Earlier this week, the EU imposed sanctions on four Chinese officials, including a top security director, for human rights abuses against the Uighur minority in China's western Xinjiang province. Beijing, which denied abusing rights, responded with its own sanctions on Europeans.

All 27 EU governments, including Hungary, agreed to the punitive measures. But Hungary's foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto, called them "harmful" and "pointless". read more

Hungary's government, led by nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has frequently clashed with Brussels. Most recently, Orban, along with some other European leaders, has accused the EU of being too slow to approve and procure COVID-19 vaccines. Hungary was the first EU country to approve shots made in China and Russia, and backed a second Chinese vaccine, made by CanSino Biologics (6185.HK), on Monday.

Early on Thursday the mayor's office of Budapest's opposition-led first district, near the Hungarian presidential palace, hung a banner over its entrance saying: "Justice for those suffering in Xinjiang!".

A Hungarian expert on China relations, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the purpose Wei's trip was possibly to repay an earlier visit by his Hungarian counterpart.

"The new Chinese vaccine is also linked to the military. The timing of the visit is rather unfortunate, but these trips take months to arrange so it is probably not a demonstration against the EU sanctions," the expert said.

"However, it helps put Szijjarto's criticism of the sanctions into perspective."

Reporting by Budapest bureau

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