Minsk set to strengthen military cooperation with China
Belarus is developing military cooperation with China due to rational considerations. Moscow is unwilling and in some ways is unable to meet all Belarus’ needs in the arms. The expansion of cooperation between the military-industrial complex of Belarus and China is only natural, and Belarus is likely to increase domestic military production, thanks to Chinese assistance.
During Lukashenka’s visit to China, the two states signed a number of agreements on bilateral cooperation. For instance, Belarus’ State Committee for Military Production signed an agreement (the roadmap) with the Chinese Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) on bilateral cooperation. CASC is the largest manufacturer of communications satellites, heavy multiple rocket launchers, air defence systems, unmanned aerial vehicles and precision-guided munitions. The last four items are among the priorities for the Belarusian defence industry.
That said, Belarus already has significant results from cooperating with China in the defence industry field. With the CASC assistance, Belarus launched Belintersat-1, a communications satellite, which laid the grounds for the national military digital communications system. In addition, there is a Chinese "trace" in the MLRS Polonaise. Yet current cooperation with Russia in the security field is much more elaborate than that with China, but the dynamics of Sino-Belarusian cooperation may soon change this state of affairs.
While Belarus needs to upgrade and update her weapons, she is extremely short of funds. Russia is reluctant to transfer technology, and Russian-produced weapons are becoming more expensive. In addition, Russia does not manufacture some types of equipment (for example, single-engine fighter aircrafts). Moscow is prone to self-isolation and seeks to ensure import substitution, including Belarusian defence products. Meanwhile, China is interested in expanding its presence on the arms market; it is ready to transfer technology and offers attractive financial terms. The quality of Chinese products is improving.
Belarus is likely to expand military cooperation with China and to increase domestic military production with Chinese assistance, in particular, regarding wheeled armoured vehicles, medium-range air defence systems, precision-guided munitions of various purpose, and heavy UAV. That said, Russia will remain an important ally / partner for Belarus on regional security issues and the main source of financial support in the near future. The situation is not unique: Pakistan, which cooperates with the United States in the securing field and receives financial assistance from them, relies on the technological assistance from China in the defence industry.
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.