Former Hungarian PM: China is Regaining its Place in the Global Economy

“Chinese people are busy. They want to do things better and are willing to grow. Everybody has an idea and wants to achieve something. It seems that despite 30 years of uninterrupted growth, they haven’t fallen into the middle-income trap in which so many developing countries have lost their way.”

Gordon Bajnai is a Hungarian entrepreneur and economist, who served as the Prime Minister of Hungary from 2009 to 2010. He is struck by how much China has transformed itself in the past 10 years. The former Hungarian Prime Minister has witnessed vast changes in China since swapping front-line politics for the boardroom.

In 1994, Bajnai was awarded Pro Universitate Award. In 1999, he was voted one of the 30 most promising Central-Eastern European business executives by the Central European Business Review. In 2003, the National Association of Managers named Bajnai its “Young Manager of the Year”. In 2006, he was awarded the Officer’s Cross Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary as an acknowledgment of his exceptional professional and company management work, as well as his achievements in the area of company management culture development.

Gordon Bajnai, former Prime Minister of Hungary

In an exclusive interview with China Focus, Bajnai revealed what has impressed him most about China’s development, why further opening-up offers “win-win” opportunities for both sides and how he hopes “wisdom” will guide China and the U.S. during their current difficult predicament.

China Focus: What changes have you seen in China?

Bajnai: Beijing is incomparable to what it was 10 years ago and before. It’s a very modern, world-class city. And even more interesting is the fact that through this long-lasting and continuous modernization, it has kept its buzz and entrepreneurial spirit.

Chinese people are busy. They want to do things better and are willing to grow. Everybody has an idea and wants to achieve something. It seems that despite 30 years of uninterrupted growth, they haven’t fallen into the middle-income trap in which so many developing countries have lost their way.

China Focus: How would you evaluate China’s development?

Bajnai China has very successfully covered the last 40 years, emerging as the second largest economy in the world, and even now it is still going. From the perspective of the outside world and from the perspective of history, it looks as if the government is actually building a China with socialist characteristics. And it is the 5,000-year-old old China, which is now, in a way, regaining its place in the global economy and geopolitics.

China Focus: In which fields would you like to see more opening-up in China?

Bajnai: It has to allow foreign companies to compete more and invest more freely in the Chinese economy, and participate in sectors like finance, services or health care, which is very critical for China. There was a recent announcement by the Chinese leadership that the country is heading in that direction, so I’m optimistic about it happening.

China Focus: How do you understand China-U.S. relations?

Bajnai: China has become one of the two most important players in the global economy. Those two most important players are the United States and China. If you think about the 19th-century United States, they went through the same process — gradually becoming a leading force in the world and learning to deal with the external environment.

It is a process. All sides need to have the wisdom to accommodate China, and in doing so can make it a win-win situation, as opposed to zero-sum games. In a zero-sum game, ultimately perhaps everyone will lose.

China Focus: How can China and the EU engage in further cooperation in the future?

Bajnai:  Cooperation is strong, but I think it would be fantastic if cooperation could be taken even further, and for that China also needs to make progress in some kind of a free trade agreement. In fact, Europe and China are now the only two open areas maintaining, developing and progressing the global trading system, and they are close to one another on the issue of climate change.

Pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit protesters hold flags and placards outside the Parliament, in London, Britain, on Jan. 14, 2019. (Photo/Xinhua)

China Focus: What are your thoughts on the Brexit situation in the UK?

Bajnai: I’m very sorry about what is happening. But the trick is that once something like that happens, it becomes very difficult to turn it back. That’s the dilemma. I hope that there will be some common sense, which has been a characteristic of the United Kingdom’s politics over the past several hundred years. They have long been rational, pragmatic, looking toward the long term and democratic. I hope that this tradition will prevail because at the moment the situation looks quite desperate.