Belarusian-Vietnamese relations as example of Minsk's foreign policy strategy
In relations with other states, the Belarusian authorities are primarily after own benefit. Loyalty to foreign policy partners is viewed primarily as a ritual, not a foreign policy imperative. The absence of a value-based foreign policy strategy creates good prerequisites for the growth in exports, including military and dual-use, but precludes the formation of allied relations.
During the visit of Vietnamese President Chiang Dai Kuang to Belarus, among other issues, the parties have discussed bilateral cooperation on security and defence. Belarus has expressed interest and readiness to deepen relations in this field. That said, Minsk has not been confused by the fact that Hanoi is a regional rival of Beijing. Moreover, China and Vietnam have territorial disputes, periodically threatening to develop into armed confrontation.
Since the times of the Soviet Union, Vietnam has been a traditional partner for the post-Soviet space. Hanoi has become one of the largest customers of the Belarusian military-industrial complex, primarily in the air defence field. Minsk hopes that Vietnam would lobby Belarus’ interests in South-East Asia. This is probably why Belarus is ready to cooperate with Vietnam on almost any sensitive issue, including the transfer of military technology and the creation of joint ventures.
Minsk appears to ignore the specifics of Sino-Vietnamese relations. Beijing (which is otherwise known as a strategic ally in Minsk) and Hanoi remain many tough antagonists, including because of territorial disputes in the South China Sea, which Vietnam calls the East-Vietnamese Sea. Apparently, the Belarusian leadership is firmly confident of its ability to become a strategic partner for both sides in the confrontation, simultaneously.
Conventionally, Belarus’ foreign policy is an extremely pragmatic one. Minsk in most cases ignores the contradictions between its partners, seeking to withdraw them from the bilateral agenda as far as possible. The lack of value component in relations with other states and Belarus’ readiness for broad cooperation in the security field, including the technology transfer, is a competitive advantage of the domestic military-industrial complex. It creates good prerequisites for the growth in exports of military and dual-use produces. However, winning in one, Belarus loses in another: pragmatism on the verge of unscrupulousness prevents Minsk from forming truly allied relations with its partners.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.