The Corner

World

State Department Intends to Counteract Russian, Chinese Influence in Central Europe 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference with Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto in Budapest, Hungary, February 11, 2019. (Tamas Kaszas/Reuters)

Budapest — Years of American disengagement from central Europe have contributed to a growing Chinese and Russian presence in the region that the U.S. intends to counter, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday at the outset of a weeklong diplomatic trip.

“I think [Hungary is] welcoming U.S. engagement,” Pompeo told reporters in an impromptu press conference at the U.S. embassy. “I think for a long time we shunned them in a way that drove them to fill the vacuum with folks who didn’t share our values.” No American president has visited Hungary since 2006, and Barack Obama’s administration grew frustrated with the Viktor Orbán–led Fidesz government. Under President Trump, Pompeo said, that would change and the U.S. would “compete for positive influence in the region.”

The week-long trip will take Pompeo to Budapest, Warsaw, and Bratislava, as well as briefly to Brussels and Reykjavik.

If the Trump administration is determined to upgrade relations with the “Visegrad” countries — Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic — it comes at a delicate time. On January 27, the Wall Street Journal reported that “Orban strongly objects to U.S. pressure aimed at curbing the influence of Moscow and Beijing in Europe.” Days later, Hungarian investigative outlet Direkt36 reported that a leaked diplomatic cable showed American official A. Wess Mitchell warning: “Support is starting to dissipate for those who believe in U.S.-Hungarian relations.”

But Pompeo cast his effort to “renew and deepen the special bond” between the U.S. and central Europe as an exercise in mutual interests. “We must not let Putin drive wedges between friends in NATO,” said Pompeo at a joint press conference with Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto. “Hungarians know all too well from their history that an authoritarian Russia will never be a friend to the freedom and sovereignty of smaller nations.” In November, Hungary denied extradition of two Russian arms dealers to the United States, earning a rebuke from the State Department.

Pompeo was perhaps most pointed when it came to China. “Russia’s not the only power that wants to erode freedom in this region,” he said. Chinese telecom company Huawei has expanded its presence in Europe, signing a memorandum of understanding with Hungary last year to build critical 5G infrastructure. At the embassy, Pompeo warned that the U.S. would be forced to reevaluate its partnerships with countries if they continued to do business with Huawei, citing security concerns. (Poland arrested a Huawei employee for espionage last month.) He also referenced the PRC’s belt-and-road initiative — an infrastructure push across Eurasia that has left some participating nations deeply in debt. “Beijing’s handshake sometimes comes with strings,” he said.

Under Obama, relations soured between the U.S. and Hungary when Viktor Orbán took power in 2010. Critics charge Orbán with presiding over a dangerous mix of authoritarian backsliding and corruption, and nonpartisan group Freedom House, citing a putative crackdown on NGOs and the press, recently downgraded Hungary from “free” to “partly free” in its yearly report. But Pompeo said that any problems Hungarian democracy might be experiencing could be solved by American absence, and, before a scheduled dinner with Orbán on Monday night, met with the heads of assorted NGOs. He vowed to discuss the state of civil liberties in Hungary with Orbán.

Szijjarto, the Hungarian official, repeatedly pushed back on the notion that Hungary was in hock to Russia or China — at least any more than its European counterparts. But he struck a friendly note in comparing Orbán’s positions on issues such as immigration and national identity to those of Trump.

Still, Pompeo’s message for Hungary was simple: “The Russians and the Chinese . . . do not remotely share the American ideals that we care so deeply about.”

Something to Consider

If you enjoyed this article, we have a proposition for you: Join NRPLUS. Members get all of our content (including the magazine), no paywalls or content meters, an advertising-minimal experience, and unique access to our writers and editors (conference calls, social-media groups, etc.). And importantly, NRPLUS members help keep NR going. Consider it?

If you enjoyed this article, and were stimulated by its contents, we have a proposition for you: Join NRPLUS.

LEARN MORE

Most Popular

Immigration

Angela Rye Knows You’re Racist

The political philosopher Michael Oakeshott said that the “rationalist” is hopelessly lost in ideology, captivated by the world of self-contained coherence he has woven from strands of human experience. He concocts a narrative about narratives, a story about stories, and adheres to the “large outline which ... Read More
Immigration

What the Viral Border-Patrol Video Leaves Out

In an attempt to justify Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s absurd comparison of American detention facilities to Holocaust-era concentration camps, many figures within the media have shared a viral video clip of a legal hearing in which a Department of Justice attorney debates a panel of judges as to what constitutes ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Pro-Abortion Nonsense from John Irving

The novelist has put up a lot of easy targets in his New York Times op-ed. I am going to take aim at six of his points, starting with his strongest one. First: Irving asserts that abortion was legal in our country from Puritan times until the 1840s, at least before “quickening.” That’s an overstatement. ... Read More
Film & TV

Murder Mystery: An Old Comedy Genre Gets Polished Up

I  like Adam Sandler, and yet you may share the sense of trepidation I get when I see that another of his movies is out. He made some very funny manboy comedies (Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Waterboy) followed by some not-so-funny manboy comedies, and when he went dark, in Reign over Me and Funny People, ... Read More