Belarusian authorities upbeat about future cooperation with China

April 22, 2016 19:12

The Belarusian authorities hope to use the visit of President Xi Jinping to demonstrate success of President Lukashenka state policy. They also count on positive impact from the signed agreements on people’s expectations regarding cooperation with China and connected economic growth. However, amid deteriorating socio-economic situation in Belarus, all this upbeat rhetoric is unlikely to increase President Lukashenka’s popular ratings. 

On the eve of President Xi Jinping visit to Belarus, President Lukashenka gave an interview to Xinhua, Chinese news agency.

During his two-day visit to Belarus, Xi Jinping is planning to sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and a Joint Declaration after the meeting with Alexander Lukashenka. 

Sino-Belarusian meetings at the highest level will have broad media coverage in Belarus. The Belarusian propaganda will try to present this visit as a historical event demonstrating a breakthrough in relations with China. Ahead of the presidential campaign, the Belarusian authorities might try to re-focus on the prospects of economic cooperation with China and on Chinese investment as an impetus for economic development and growth of population’s well-being in the coming years (after the 2015 presidential elections). 

Amid economic recession and lowered social protection, the Belarusian authorities might attempt to sell the hope for future economic growth due to Sino-Belarusian cooperation to the population. 

China is currently taking a closer look at economies of countries, which may become a part of the ‘Silk Road’, an ambitious Chinese infrastructure project envisaging over USD 40 billion investment. This is a long-term project, which includes several focus areas. 

In the interview with Xinhua, President Lukashenka assured that "the Belarusian model” had a lot in common with the Chinese economic model, and underscored the importance of stability. 

In addition, the president underscored the similarity of views on political issues between the countries, however, for China that was not a priority issue. Since the 1980s, Beijing has been promoting the ‘openness to the world’ concept, which envisages pragmatic cooperation with all types of political regimes, if it is beneficial for China. Yet in the late 1990s, Beijing persuaded Minsk to accept ‘one China’ policy, aiming against Taiwan independence, and ensured the lack of criticism of Chinese policy in Tibet. 

The Belarusian authorities have repeatedly voiced their hopes for deeper cooperation with China, which in their viewpoint should stimulate economic development in Belarus. Meanwhile, Belarus still has not used the USD 15 billion loan allocated by Beijing. In addition, some jointly implemented Sino-Belarusian projects had negative effects (eg cement industry modernization). Belarusian companies do not show a high interest in tied Chinese loans – mainly due to the poor quality of equipment supplied from China. Moreover, Sino-Belarusian trade balance has not improved – imports from China make between 75%-85% of the total turnover. 

In addition, the Belarusian authorities hope to step up the development of the ‘Great Stone’, Sino-Belarusian industrial park, which until now has been rather idle. For example, Chinese company China Merchants Group said it would invest up to USD 500 million in a large logistics centre near Minsk – a platform for economic hub of the Silk Road project – by 2020.

Belarus is unlikely to improve its economic situation significantly in the coming three/four years thanks to deeper Sino-Belarusian economic and political cooperation.

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The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.

In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.

The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.

There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.

That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.