Chinese defense minister visits Belarus to enhance ties
Strengthened 'fraternal bonds' to offset strategic imbalance facing the world
Published: Aug 17, 2023 10:17 PM
China and Belarus Photo: VCG

China and Belarus Photo: VCG

China and Belarus share the same vision of the world order, and military cooperation between Belarus and China is not intended to target any third country, Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko said as he met with visiting Chinese State Councilor and Minister of National Defense Li Shangfu in Minsk on Thursday.

Chinese observers hailed Li's visit to Belarus as one that would help further boost defense ties and overall relations between the two countries, which carries great strategic value in offsetting the challenge of the world losing strategic balance, as the US-led West is increasingly attempting to achieve an imbalanced strategic pattern that only benefits itself. 

Li arrived in Minsk on Wednesday from Russia where he participated in the 11th Moscow Conference on International Security held in Patriot Park near the Russian capital. This is the first high-level visit of China-Belarus military cooperation in the past five years. Defense officials from the two countries are expected to outline areas of cooperation for the near future and exchange views on the current international and regional security situation, TASS reported. 

"We are absolute supporters of a multipolar world, territorial integrity and unity of the borders and territories formed after World War II. We stay committed to non-interference in the internal affairs of states. In short, the whole palette on which China's foreign policy is based is similar to ours. You should know that for more than 30 years we have always supported China in all its aspirations, because we consider the domestic and foreign policy of the People's Republic of China absolutely fair, aimed at peaceful resolution of any disputes and conflicts," the Belarusian leader emphasized, according to the Belarusian state news agency Belarusian Telegraph Agency (BelTA) on Thursday. 

Li Shangfu praised Belarus' great successes in its development and the role of the Belarusian head of state in this achievement. "Let me express my sincere and deep respect for your high contribution to peace and development in the world," the Chinese defense minister said.

"The purpose of my visit to Belarus is the implementation of important agreements at the level of heads of state and further strengthening of bilateral military cooperation," Li said.

Accocrding an official release by the Chinese Ministry of National Defense, Li conveyed President Xi Jinping's warm greetings to Lukashenko. 

Li said that under the strategic guidance of the two heads of state, China-Belarus relations have been elevated to a comprehensive strategic partnership of all-weather cooperation. 

China is willing to work together with Belarus to continuously deepen and solidify mutually beneficial and win-win cooperation, and better benefit the people of both countries. The military cooperation between China and Belarus has steadily developed, achieving fruitful results in strategic communication, joint training, and joint exercises. Both sides will make joint efforts under the guidance of the two heads of state to continuously advance the military relationship, the Chinese defense minister said.

"In recent years, under the leadership of Aleksandr Lukashenko and Xi Jinping, relations between Belarus and China have been continuously strengthening, steadily developing and moving forward. Last year we received a new status for our relations - it is an all-weather and comprehensive strategic partnership," Li said on Wednesday during his meeting with Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin in Minsk on Wednesday, BelTA reported.

This shows that we now have truly fraternal relations, Li noted.

According to the Chinese Minister of National Defense, China is currently Belarus' second biggest partner in terms of bilateral trade. "Last year, mutual trade grew more than 30 percent. In January-May 2023, trade between Belarus and China also showed very good growth," Li added.

Belarus said on Wednesday that diplomatic relations with China had reached an "unprecedented high level of cooperation."

Khrenin said that "over 31 years of diplomatic relations, through traditional friendship and mutual respect, our countries have achieved a comprehensive strategic partnership."

Khrenin added that the friendly relations between Belarus and China had formed a basis for developing cooperation between the two countries.

"Despite external factors, our deep and special relations allow us to move toward creating a community of common interests and a common destiny," he said.

The Belarusian defense minister added that his Chinese counterpart's visit would help strengthen military relations and understanding between the two countries' armed forces and offer "excellent prospects for the development of relations in the trade, economic, scientific and technical fields."

Li last met with his Belarusian counterpart at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Defense Ministers' Meeting in April.

Military exchanges are an indicator of a relationship between two countries. Military exchanges are built on a high level of mutual trust, and only when both countries perceive each other as trustworthy can they let down their guard and engage in deep military exchanges, Cui Heng, an assistant research fellow from the Center for Russian Studies of East China Normal University, told the Global Times on Thursday.

"Currently, Europe as a whole is strategically imbalanced, and the US-led West is attempting to achieve an imbalanced strategic pattern that only benefits itself. Against this backdrop, it is quite urgent and necessary for non-Western countries to strengthen their connections and cooperation at the strategic level, ensuring global strategic stability and balance to ensure that different civilizations, political and social systems around the world can pursue their common goal of development," said Li Haidong, a professor at the China Foreign Affairs University.

Chinese analysts also pointed out the urgency of strengthening military cooperation between China and Belarus, given the uncertainty in global and European security prospects due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict as well as the penitential of further deterioration in major power relations. 

Strengthening military cooperation between China and Belarus would help resolve crises not only in Europe and Eurasia, but also in the Pacific and Atlantic regions in a constructive manner when they occur, offering different ways to resolve them than in a biased and coercive manner that discriminates against and pressures non-Western countries, Li Haidong explained to the Global Times on Thursday.

Military cooperation between China and Belarus also serves as a demonstration for other parties, and plays a role in strategic deterrence, Cui noted. "The military cooperation and cooperation in the field of security between China and Belarus are not targeted at any third party, but are aimed at safeguarding their own national interests."

The background of the meeting between the Chinese Minister of National Defense and his Belarusian counterpart is the possible spillover of the Russia-Ukraine conflict to Belarus. Belarus has been under significant internal and external pressure, especially since the 2020 election. The visit by the Chinese Minister of National Defense also expresses political support for Belarus, Cui said.

After a five-year hiatus, military cooperation and exchanges between China and Belarus are sure to be further enhanced and developed under the promotion and impetus of high-level military officials, Song Zhongping, a military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Both China and Belarus are peace-loving countries and hope to maintain regional peace and stability and safeguard genuine multilateralism, Song said. "Regarding the Russia-Ukraine crisis, both countries play important roles in promoting peace talks."

The cooperation between China and Belarus is multifaceted, and the scope of cooperation is very broad. The military cooperation between the two sides is likely to involve exchanges of military personnel, mutual exchange of weapons, and possibly mutual learning of military doctrines and understanding of strategic theories, Li Haidong said.

When asked where the cooperation between China and Belarus lies, Song responded that Belarus could further import defensive weapons and equipment from China, expanding on the previous cooperation in military equipment. 

Also, it is necessary to strengthen military exchanges and exercises between China, Belarus, and Russia. At the same time, it is also possible to consider incorporating Belarus into various regional international organizations established by China and Russia, he added. 

Belarus aspires to become a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the BRICS mechanism, which indicates its desire to strengthen cooperation with like-minded countries. This is especially important for maintaining the multilateral system and a multipolar world, analysts pointed out.