Minsk hopes to boost cooperation with Beijing to replace the Kremlin in some areas
Minsk aspires to replace the Kremlin with Beijing in some spheres due to shrinking benefits from cooperation with the Kremlin. So far, Sino-Belarusian cooperation has been developing gradually only in some spheres: military and technical, foreign policy, security and contacts between Chinese and Belarusian security officials. Minsk is unlikely to boost investment or economic cooperation with Beijing in the near future, which could lead to FDI and non-tied loans or improve foreign trade turnover with China.
Last week, President Lukashenka held a meeting with Chinese central and regional media, invited for a press-tour to Belarus. Previously, press-tours were usually organised for Russian regional media in order to ensure Russian regions’ support for the Belarusian leadership in negotiations with the Kremlin. Before his visit to China to participate in the One Belt, One Road international forum, the president aspires to boost Chinese investors’ interest in Belarus through ensuring relevant information background.
The Belarusian leadership is gradually recouping reduced benefits from military-technical, financial and economic cooperation with Russia by stepping up relations with China. The intensity of contacts and political cooperation between the Belarusian and Chinese leaders has grown, yet it has had no effect on the economic and investment benefits for Belarus. In April this year alone, President Lukashenka received several high-level Chinese delegations, which pointed to diplomatic successes of Belarusian Ambassador in Beijing Rudoy and to the ongoing political rapprochement between Minsk and Beijing.
However, so far, high level contacts have not translated into direct investments and unrelated loans, which is what Belarus wants from China. In addition, so far, the Great Stone industrial park has not reported any tangible successes and hardly has any prospects for a serious boost in production. That said, the Belarusian authorities hope for USD 50 billion worth of exports from the Park. The USD 15 billion tied loan from China has been of a little use for Belarus due to problems with the quality of Chinese equipment, labour force and the lack of success in many production modernisation projects (eg, in the cement industry).
Detrimental to Belarus, foreign trade turnover with China has been recouped with military-technical cooperation. For instance, China and Belarus jointly developed "Polonaise", the multiple launch rocket system, and launched the Belarusian satellite. In addition, Chinese and Belarusian security forces have established close interaction in order to incorporate the Internet control technology from China.
Overall, Beijing is unlikely to replace the Kremlin in terms of financial and economic support for Belarus and the Belarusian economy. However, the military-technical and security cooperation between Belarus and China resembles a sustainable and long-term mutually beneficial partnership.
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.