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Foreign relations
Hungary and the countries of ASEAN
In the second half of the interview given to Diplomacy & Trade by five ambassadors from ASEAN countries with Embassy in Hungary, the diplomats talk about bilateral relations between Hungary and their respective countries.
Sándor Laczkó
Diplomacy&Trade online | June 8, 2012

When speaking of bilateral relations, Malaysian Ambassador Kamilan Maksom noted that Malaysian and Hungarian diplomatic relations were established in 1969. “These relations are substantive, strong and are on a firm footing,” he said. Before the world economic crisis, the volume of bilateral trade reached USD 730 million. After 2008-9, it dropped substantially to USD 400-450 million.

Continuous efforts have been undertaken to boost Malaysian export including trade missions from Malaysia and seminars organized in Budapest. The initiative has shown positive result as the volume of trade has recorded an increase to USD 570 million in 2011. The balance of trade is in favor of Malaysia. “We welcome similar trade missions from Hungary to Malaysia and the other ASEAN countries to promote Hungarian exports in order to correct the trade imbalances,” he pointed out.

Among the major items imported by Hungary from Malaysia are consumer goods, machinery products, electrical machinery and equipment. There used to be quite large Malaysian investments in the Hungarian services sector but currently it is recorded at only USD 45 million. However, the Ambassador is confident that Hungary has remained one of the attractive destinations for Malaysian investors in Central Europe.

“Malaysia-Hungary bilateral relations are getting stronger, manifested by the recently heightened high level contacts between the two countries’ leaders. Last November, Hungarian Foreign Minister János Martonyi made an official visit to Kuala Lumpur to reciprocate his Malaysian counterpart Anifah Aman’s visit to Hungary to attend the ASEM ministerial conference here.

During the visit both sides agreed to initiate a memorandum of understanding for cooperation between the two Foreign Ministries.  Collaboration is also in the pipeline between the two national petroleum companies, Malaysian Petronas and the Hungarian Oil and Gas Trust MOL,” Ambassador Maksom pointed out. He was hopeful that this cooperation would lead to a concrete and mutually beneficial collaboration.

Since the Hungarian education standard is world renowned, especially in science and technology, Malaysia is seriously considering Hungary as the next destination for its students to study abroad. “The conclusion of the education agreement which is now being negotiated should pave the way for Malaysians studying in Hungarian Universities,” he added.

Historic relations

The Kingdom of Thailand established diplomatic relations with Hungary in 1976 but historical ties date back more than a century. “When Minister Martonyi paid an official visit to Bangkok at the end of April this year, we celebrated 140 years of bilateral relations that began between the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and Siam,” the Thai Ambassador, Krit Kraichitti mentioned.

When King Chulalongkorn of Siam paid a royal visit to Austria-Hungary in 1897, he spent five days in Vienna and five in Budapest. He also paid a ‘study visit’ to Bábolna and Kisbér to learn about the renowned Hungarian agriculture, one of the most advanced in the world at that time, with the aim of modernization of Thai agriculture.

During the bipolar world system characterized by the Iron Curtain, ties between the two countries were quite minimal. “However, since the re-establishment of diplomatic relations in 1976, political exchanges have been frequent with the Hungarian President and the Speaker of Parliament visiting Thailand and the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of my country visiting Hungary.

In the past 30 years, our Prime Minister and several ministers have visited Budapest. This is especially true for a lot of parliamentarians – perhaps, because Hungary has the most beautiful parliament building in the world,” he said. People-to-people contacts have become active in the past decade as this part of the world has become more conveniently accessible for the Thailandese.

Trade, investment and tourism have all been facilitated by lower airfare, the most important factor in bilateral economic relations. There is still, of course, a lot of room for growth, the Ambassador stated. “Our government is of the view that Hungary is an important gateway to Central and Eastern Europe, so, I’m here to expand our relations in as many areas as possible, particularly in the economy.”

Thailand’s trade with Hungary includes electronic products, computer accessories, automobile parts, textile, jewelry, and rubber. The volume is not too high and this is also true for investments. The ambassador is of the opinion that it is because the authorities and private businesses alike concentrate primarily on the markets of neighboring countries: ASEAN, India and China. “Just recently, in Bangkok, I suggested to the Minister of Trade that Hungary and East Central Europe should be put back on the Thai map of trade,” he added.

In his view, the advancement of science and technology in Hungary is worth paying attention to in the field of environment protection and water management as there are common issues between the two countries concerning the Mekong and Danube rivers, respectively. Education, culture and people-to-people contacts, and tourism can all bring the Hungarian and Thai people closer. “I’m trying to promote any airline that can transport tourists between the two countries. There are about 700 Thais living in Hungary, mostly active in the restaurant, spa and tourism businesses,” he said.

Identifying sectors of development

As for ties between Indonesia and Hungary, the Indonesian Ambassador, Maruli Tua Sagala pointed out that “we have an increasingly intensive interaction on the governmental level. Last year, the Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament visited Indonesia where he met dignitaries including the President of Indonesia.

Last June, our Foreign Minister visited Hungary to take part in the Asia-Europe (ASEM) conference in Gödöllő and he also discussed bilateral relations with his Hungarian counterpart, particularly on political, economic and people-to-people contacts.

Back to back with the conference, we had a joint commission that successfully identified many sectors in which development and cooperation could be fruitful. Very recently, on April 24, the Hungarian Foreign Minister, János Martonyi visited Indonesia, opening a new chapter in bilateral relations. Also, last year, we had a joint commission that successfully identified many sectors in which development and cooperation could be fruitful.”

The volume of trade between Indonesia and Hungary is around USD 260 million but it is on the increase year to year. There is also an increasing cooperation between businesses. One fine example is a cooperation agreement between the Indonesian state oil company and the Hungarian Oil and Gas Trust MOL, on which a memorandum has already been signed.

Another area of cooperation worth mentioning in bilateral relations is what the Ambassador terms as ‘green solar’. “The market is there for such a plant in Indonesia and we plan to build such solar energy production facilities on 100 islands in Indonesia for the first phase. Hungarian firms have to compete with South Korean, Japanese, American and French companies, and hopefully, they will be successful,” he said.

In people-to-people contacts, there are a lot of exchanges not only cultural but also educational. Some 50 Hungarian students went to Indonesia within the framework of Darmasiswa scholarships to study Indonesian language, arts, and other fields of culture. “We expect another 50 students to go to Indonesia this coming July. Until now, there have been altogether 243 Hungarian students participating in the program. There is intention both on the Hungarian and the Indonesian side to have exchange visits of the highest level,” Maruli Tua Sagala concluded.

Pushing for stronger business ties

Eleanor L Jaucian, the Ambassador of the Philippines, stated that “we established diplomatic relations with Hungary in 1973 and the Embassy was established here in 1989. Hungary used to have an Embassy in Manila but now, The Philippines is under the jurisdiction of the Hungarian Embassy in Indonesia.”

As for political relations, she said “the Philippines have always been very appreciative of Hungary’s continuing support for our political security and especially for our candidatures in various international organizations.”

The Ambassador believes the two countries share common Christian values that can be built on in the future. She would be happy if more high-level visits could occur during her term in Budapest to follow earlier visits by the then Hungarian President Árpád Göncz and the then Filipino President Fidel Ramos.

“Our trade with Hungary covers basically the same areas as mentioned in connection with the Thai-Hungarian commercial relations: electronics, machineries, garments, plastics. The balance of trade is very much in favor of the Philippines. In 2011, the volume of bilateral trade with Hungary was USD 219 million, with only USD 6 million worth of Hungarian exports.

We are making efforts to work with the Hungarian Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Economy to increase our trade volume and improve this balance. My country sees the potential of Hungary in different technologies, especially in pharmaceuticals and vaccines. A Hungarian investment in the Philippines could well be an important gateway to the ASEAN region.

We are very happy for Hungary’s support of our economic diplomacy program, in establishing contact with the private business sector,” she added. Since she arrived, Ambassador Jaucian has met with several businesspeople in an attempt to establish links with the business sector in the Philippines, which is an emerging business hub in Asia with a highly educated, large population.

She reminded that “for the same purpose, we are also in constant touch with the chambers of commerce in Hungary. Foreign Minister Albert F. del Rosario was also in Hungary. Our Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs, Erlinda F. Basilio held political consultations with Deputy State Secretary for Global Affairs János Hóvári of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that are planned to continue this November in Manila. Foreign Minister János Martonyi’s recent visit to the ASEAN countries was a very positive and encouraging sign that Hungary now recognizes the potentials of the region.”

The Ambassador added that “we are mandated by our government and President Aquino to push for stronger economic relations and tap the potential of Hungary and Eastern Europe. We see a strategic importance of Hungary in this effort. I am aware that the Hungarian meat processing company Pick is trying to enter the Filipino market. There could be more negotiations like that following the November meeting. On the cultural side, we have an agreement with Hungary that we are working on to implement it fully for wider cooperation.”

Partners for many decades

Regarding Hungarian-Vietnamese diplomatic relations, they have a long history, celebrating the 60th anniversary three years ago. The Vietnamese Ambassador, Ngo Duy Ngo pointed out that “during this time, we have received a lot of moral and material assistance from Hungary. Also, a lot of Vietnamese students had the opportunity to study in Hungary in the 1950s through the ‘70s, with almost 4,000 of them graduating in this country.

Many of them still work for the government and its agencies in Vietnam. After the change of the political system in Hungary in 1989-90, and also the economic reforms in Vietnam, we tried to maintain the economic relations at a high level.” In 2008, the Hungarian President visited Vietnam. The same year, the Vietnamese Prime Minister visited Hungary and signed a bilateral cooperation agreement. A year later, the Speaker of the Vietnamese National Assembly paid a visit to Hungary and “now, we are waiting for the Hungarian Prime Minister’s visit to Vietnam, scheduled for this fall during the ASEAN meeting in Laos.”

As for economic relations, due to the economic crisis, the volume of bilateral trade is lower than before, just over USD 100 million, with the balance in favor of Hungary. Vietnam imports pharmaceuticals, machinery and other products to be used in manufacturing in the Asian country.

“Now, we are trying to improve the trade figures. A Hungarian government commission is due to arrive in Hanoi this summer to discuss the possibilities and identify the priorities. One area that we consider very important is education. Currently, we have about 200 Vietnamese students studying at various universities in Hungary, through scholarship, private engagement or sent by the Vietnamese authorities, who also delegate students to Hungary for short courses. A group, for instance, is to arrive to the University of Szeged to study administrative reforms. We also have good relations between several Vietnamese ministries and their Hungarian counterparts,” he added.

Vietnam also appreciates that Hungary is one of the countries that provide efficient development assistance, currently building a hospital and a fresh-water facility. In 2011, Hungary made further commitments in this respect – “a move the Vietnamese people highly value,” the Ambassador concluded.

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