On the fringes of the second Belt and Road forum held in Beijing last week, executives of Budapest Airport and Xi’an Xianyang International signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).
Their mutual target: to up air traffic, predominantly cargo flights, connecting China and Hungary.
In May, a similar cooperation agreement is expected to be inked by Budapest and Zhengzhou officials.
“The ‘Belt and Road initiative’ (BRI) is not a geopolitical tool but a platform for cooperation,” stated Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi last week.
A purposeful announcement made by Yi. It was aimed to dispel concerns raised by the UK, France, Germany and the U.S. that see the Belt and Road initiative as a strategic tool to extend Beijing’s grip on Central Asia and some of the EU countries. Concerns that Hungary doesn’t seem to have. On the contrary. “We in this eastern European region have always seen China's leading role in the new world order as an opportunity, not a threat," stated Hungary's Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó a while ago.
The contents of the MoU signed in Beijing last Friday by minister Szijjártó, Wang Zhendong, Deputy MD of Xi'an Xianyang International, and René Droese, Cargo Chief of Budapest Airport are fully in line with Szijjártó’s political perception.
This is documented by a press release. “The core purpose of the agreement is to develop Budapest Airport into an influential distribution and logistics base for China in Central and Eastern Europe,” is noted in the release.
Starting point for more flights to come
"Between two far apart located countries such as Hungary and China, strong economic cooperation is only possible if they are well connected,” stated Mr Szijjártó on the occasion of the signing ceremony. Therefore, direct flights between Hungary and China are of central importance, he pointed out. So the cooperation agreement between Xi'an Airport and Budapest Airport “can be a starting point for further flights between Chinese cities and Hungary,” said the minister, this way indirectly addressing other freight hubs to join the bandwagon.
Tourism is also a sector that benefits greatly from direct air links. Last year, 256,000 Chinese tourists visited Hungary, which corresponds to a growth rate of 14 percent on the previous year, told Mr Szijjártó.
BUD has developed into a cargo hub
Beginning on June 7, Shanghai Airlines will operate three weekly passenger nonstop flights between Shanghai and Budapest thus improving the connectivity.
Above all, however, freight flows will be further intensified. Jointly organized promotion events and sales campaigns both in China and central and eastern Europe are part of the agenda.
Further to this, other Chinese airports will be informed about the gateway function for air freight Budapest Airport has lately grown into, becoming a distribution center for markets in central and eastern Europe, is announced in the release.
The development of logistics and freight traffic harmonizes with the efforts of the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to strengthen the cooperation between China and Hungary in the area of trade and the development of joint industrial projects, is pointed out by Budapest’s management in a paper. With the political and economic support of Hungarian officials, BUD Liszt Ferenc Airport has succeeded in doubling the weekly capacity of cargo flights between the Hungarian capital, Hong Kong and Zhengzhou. Simultaneously, the lower deck capacity on passenger flights operated by Air China between Beijing and Budapest was upped.
In air freight, the development was kicked off by a Cargolux nonstop flight from Zhengzhou to Budapest some years ago. “Now is the time to further intensify the cooperation with our new Chinese partners and thus exploit the enormous potential, especially in the cargo business,” stated Jost Lammers, CEO of Budapest Airport at the Beijing event.
“Zhengzhou, Xi'an and Budapest share a strong growth momentum. Therefore, we are very confident that we can jointly benefit from the upcoming cooperation,” Mr Lammers summarized.
When hearing about the trilateral airport project announced during the Belt and Road forum, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi should be very pleased.