Alyaksandr Lukashenka arrived in China on Tuesday, where he is scheduled to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping to discuss a range of issues, from trade and investment to “international challenges,” Belarusian state news agency BelTA reported. Lukashenko’s visit will last until Thursday.
His trip comes after the two leaders agreed to step up ties between their countries to a “all-weather comprehensive strategic partnership” at a meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Uzbekistan in September, which he also attended Vladimir Putin.
“The heads of state will take stock of what has been achieved and present plans to maximize the potential of the new level of cooperation,” BelTA said.
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported on Wednesday that Lukashenka visited Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and laid a wreath at the Monument to the People’s Heroes, which commemorates revolutionaries of the Chinese Communist Party.
Lukashenka’s visit and US-China tensions
The visit by the Belarusian dictator – who last year allowed Russian troops to use Belarusian territory to stage their first attack on Ukraine – comes as tensions between the US and China have escalated in recent weeks, including over Washington’s concerns that Beijing is considering sending deadly weapons Russia.
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken during a trip to Kazakhstan on Tuesday, he warned that Washington would take action against Chinese companies and citizens involved in any attempt to send deadly weapons to Russia.
Beijing rejected the US claims, and its foreign ministry said on Monday that China was “actively promoting peace talks and a political solution to the crisis” while United States “They are pouring deadly weapons onto the battlefield in Ukraine.” Despite an “unlimited” partnership with Russia, China also claims to be a neutral party to the conflict in Ukraine.
On Friday Beijing also presented a 12-point position on a “political solution” to the crisis in a document calling for peace talks to end the year-long war. His announcement, however, was criticized by Western leaders, who accused China of already siding with Russia.
Russia expressed moderate enthusiasm for the proposal, with a Kremlin spokesman saying it was too early to discuss the “nuances” of the plan, Russian state media reported on Tuesday.
In an interview with China’s state-run Xinhua news agency published before his arrival, Lukashenko said China’s proposal was a testament to Beijing’s peaceful foreign policy and a new and original step that would have far-reaching effects.
As the CNN television portal points out, China is trying to get into a situation that analysts describe as almost impossible to achieve, trying to both present itself as a neutral observer war in Ukraineand maintain close strategic ties with Russia. Such policies, however, undermined Beijing’s efforts to woo European countries, which Chinese leaders say are necessary to revive the country’s weakened economy and counter growing competition from the United States.
Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Chinese President Xi Jinping has not yet spoken to Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky, although he has done so many times with Vladimir Putin.
One of the goals is economic and military cooperation
Lukashenko’s visit will be closely monitored for signs of any new military or technological cooperation that could translate into the battlefield in Ukraine. Both countries are already cooperating in the production of the “Polonez” missile launcher, which, according to experts, has been equipped with modified Chinese missiles, writes the “New York Times”.
In a joint statement issued last year, Lukashenko and Xi pledged to “further expand practical cooperation in every sphere between the two armed forces.”
Against the backdrop of broken ties between Belarus and the West – and economic interest in gaining independence from Russia – Lukashenka may also focus on strengthening economic ties with China during this visit.
Belarus became the target of sanctions by Western countries in response to Moscow’s aggression. However, Belarus already had tense relations with Western countries. The European Union did not recognize Lukashenka’s victory in the 2020 presidential election, which sparked massive pro-democracy protests in the country.
According to the Chinese news agency Xinhua, Belarus was one of the first participants in China’s economic Belt and Road Initiative, launched a decade ago, and trade between the two countries increased by 33 percent year-on-year last year to more than $5 billion.
In a Friday conversation between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Belarusian counterpart Sergei Alejnik, Yi promised that China “will support Belarus in its efforts to protect stability and national development” and “oppose external interference in the internal affairs of Belarus and illegal unilateral sanctions against this country,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
On Monday, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Lukashenka’s visit would be “an opportunity to make further progress in comprehensive cooperation between the two countries.”
Lukashenko: Europe will disappear if it comes into conflict with China
“The fact that the People’s Republic of China is now cooperating with Lukashenko, who has surrendered his sovereignty to Russia, is just another element of China’s deepening engagement with Russia,” Ned Price, a US State Department spokesman, said on Monday.
Lukashenko, speaking to reporters shortly after arriving in Beijing, said the US was trying to stir up anti-China sentiment in Europe.
“We understand that the Americans are pushing Europe to take an anti-Chinese path,” he said in a speech broadcast on Belarusian state media. “Europe is resisting – and rightly so, because if it separates itself from China, and God forbid, they also come into conflict with China, which America is also pushing – Europe will disappear,” he added.
“The West is their enemy and this is their enemy number one”
Lukashenka’s visit follows recent visits to Beijing by other authoritarian leaders such as Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
While Sino-Russian relations have at times been weakened by war and distrust, they have also survived because of the countries’ communist roots and willingness to challenge Washington’s global supremacy. The two countries announced an “unlimited” partnership more than a year ago, and President Xi Jinping is due to visit Moscow in the spring.
Raffaello Pantucci, a lecturer at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said tensions and disagreements often lie just below the surface of China’s relations with other countries – including Russia and Belarus – but are rarely serious enough to to overshadow their shared dislike of the West.
– The overriding strategic decision that everyone has made is that the West is their enemy and that is their number one enemy. The only priority they all have in common, said Pantucci, author of Sinostan: China’s Unintended Empire.
Chinese state media portrayed Lukashenko’s visit as an example of China’s respect for powers of all sizes and suggested that the two countries could coordinate strategies to promote peace in Ukraine. They also criticized the West for portraying the trip as a sign of China’s worrying role in Ukraine.
“Western media still view the visit with a biased prism, describing Belarus as Russia’s ‘small ally’ and suggesting that China’s ‘expanding influence’ should be a cause for concern,” an article by the Chinese daily Global Times reads.
“Today, without China, not a single problem in the world can be solved,” Lukashenka told Chinese state media.
Main photo source: ANDREA VERDELLI/EPA/PAP