Although Budapest and Beijing are separated by 10,000 km, they've just agreed to become much closer. In a quiet ceremony held the weekend before last, Hungary became the first European country to sign onto China's New Silk Road initiative, a multi-billion dollar program to build up infrastructure and trade along the land and maritime routes of the ancient Silk Road that stretched across Asia and Europe.

Right now, Hungary's participation probably won't have an impact beyond its own borders. But as others countries follow its lead, China's economic and political relationship with Europe will likely undergo a dramatic shift — one that may not be to the European Union's liking.

The Chinese government's interest in Europe isn't new. In recent years, it has made substantial investments in Greek port facilities, and agreed to help finance the development of high-speed rail service between Belgrade and Budapest. In both cases, China wanted to simplify the logistics of exporting to European markets. In return, it offered something to the countries in question: help building infrastructure, and easier access to Chinese markets (assuming they could figure out something to export back).