Minsk’s foreign policy: between the East and the Far East
The shift towards new geopolitical partner had no impact on the nature of Belarusian politics. At its core is short-term and adventurous benefit maximization from contracts concluded with Russia and Kazakhstan, even if the risks of failure increase. For instance, on June 7, President Lukashenko signed a Decree to establish a Sino-Belarusian Industrial Park, which de facto creates a tax offshore for Chinese producers in Belarus for 50 years.
In general, these Belarusian initiatives are contrary to the spirit of the signed integration agreements and have already provoked Kremlin’s backlash. For example, the potential opening of a Chinese cars assembly line in Belarus could threaten Russian automobile industry interests, said Russian Ambassador to Belarus Alexander Surikov on June 6. It should be noted that Kremlins’ negative assessment is associated with Belarus’ attempt to act against the integration agreements, rather than choosing China as a partner: Russian reaction would remain unchanged if the issue was about opening of a Belarusian-Polish or a Belarusian-American industrial park.
The Belarusian authorities made no visible attempts to restore the relations with the EU and the U.S. It could be explained by a factor we have marked before: after the EU ambassadors returned to Minsk the Belarusian authorities consider the current state of affairs as acceptable and have no intention to improve it. Therefore, one should anticipate that at least during the summer period Belarus will refrain from implementing any political demands of the West and will focus its foreign policy eastwards.
Indirectly, frozen western policy is confirmed by the participation of the Presidential Administration Head Mr. Makey in an official visit to China on June 8, during which a protocol on cooperation between Belarus’ Presidential Administration and Central Committee’s International Department of the Communist Party of China was signed. In turn, Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov is scheduled to pay an official visit to Indonesia and Laos on June 11-13.
As a rule, members of the Government, including former Belarusian Ambassador to China and Deputy Prime Minister Anatoly Tozik and Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich were responsible for relations with East Asia. In turn, Mr. Mackey and Minister Martynov were recognized experts and lobbyists of the Western policy of Belarus. Therefore, active participation of both officials in the Eastern projects indicates that today’s Belarusian ruling elite is not seriously considering resuming relations with the EU and the U.S.
Nevertheless, the lack of a long-term foreign policy strategy in Belarus puts restrictions on actions of the authorities and suggests that the “Far East” policy project can also stumble rapidly, similar to the way the Western liberalization policy collapsed in 2011. The main feature of the Belarusian foreign policy is its situational and therefore random nature.
According to Decree No. 221 of June 23rd, 2017, deadlines for the completion of foreign trade operations have been extended from 90 to 180 days for exports and from 60 to 90 days for imports. Delayed payments entailed a fine up to 2% of the transaction cost for each day of the delay, but could not exceed the total cost of the transaction. Most companies, when working with new counterparties, require a deferred payment for a period of three to six months. Due to the new regulation, violations are likely to reduce in number, so as the fines. Trade enterprises are likely to expand the assortment list due to the supply of new products in small lots, and the assortment list of exported Belarusian goods could expand, too. The new terms for completing foreign trade transactions would enable medium and small companies on the foreign trade market, exporters and importers are likely to grow in number and the geography of export-import operations could expand.