Hungary is banking on the Belt & Road Initiative to diversify its economy, as it will open up non-traditional markets to the Central European country, a senior Hungarian Official said.

“The Belt & Road Initiative is aligned with our own national strategy to diversify our economy and find other markets,” Gabor Gion, State Secretary for Financial Policy Affairs with Hungary’s Ministry of Finance, told.

Gion was in Hong Kong from Sept 11 to 12 to speak at the fourth Belt & Road Summit, an annual event jointly organised by the government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council.

President Xi Jinping launched the BRI in 2013, with the goal of connecting China with Asia, Europe and Africa via land- and sea-based infrastructure development.

Hungary and China signed an agreement on the BRI in 2015, making Hungary the first European country to join the network.

Gion said Hungary’s membership in the BRI is in line with his country’s “Opening to the East” policy. Launched in 2010, the policy aims to expand Hungarian export markets beyond Europe.

“Our economy is very dependent on the European markets. Seventy-five percent of our exports go to Europe. We’re not comfortable being dependent on one single market,” he said.

Gion said being aligned with a member country’s economic and trade strategy is crucial to the BRI’s success.

He said Hungary’s geographical position can facilitate trade among countries in the initiative.

“Hungary is a member of the European Union. It is situated in the very centre of Europe. From logistics points of view, it’s a great place,” he said.

Gion said Hungary’s strategic location makes it possible for the country to host a key infrastructure project under the BRI, the construction of the 350 kilometre high speed railway that will connect the Hungarian capital of Budapest with the Serbian capital of Belgrade.

Gion said Hungary is also keen on inviting more Chinese companies to come in, noting “the physical presence of Chinese companies is important”.

He cited Bank of China, which put up its Central European headquarters in Budapest in 2014. Another major Chinese investor is Wanhua Industrial Group, which acquired Hungarian chemicals manufacturer BorsodChem in 2011.

Gion said Chinese companies not only create jobs but “bring in different perspectives which help us to learn how to do business with other countries”.

Hungary is one of China’s biggest trading partners in Europe. Bilateral trade hit a record high of US$10.88 billion in 2018, according to a report by Xinhua News Agency.

Hungary is home to the biggest Chinese community in Central Europe.