Belarusian authorities upbeat about future cooperation with China
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.
President Lukashenka continues to rotate staff and rejuvenate heads of departments and universities following new appointments in regional administrations. Apparently, new Information Minister Karliukevich could somewhat relax the state policy towards the independent media and introduce technological solutions for retaining control over Belarus’ information space. New rectors could strengthen the trend for soft Belarusization in the regions and tighten the disciplinary and ideological control over the student movement in the capital.
President Lukashenka has appointed new ministers of culture and information, the new rector of the Belarusian State University and heads of three universities, assistants in the Minsk and Vitebsk regions.
The new Information Minister Karliukevich is likely to avoid controversial initiatives similar to those former Minister Ananich was famous for, however, certainly within his capacities. Nevertheless, the appointment of Belarusian-speaking writer Karliukevich could be regarded as the state’s cautious attempt to relax environment in the media field and ensure the sovereignty of national media.
The Belarusian leadership has consolidated the trend for mild Belarusization by appointing a young historian and a ‘reasonable nationalist’, Duk as the rector at the Kuleshov State University in Mogilev. Meanwhile, while choosing the head of the Belarusian State University, the president apparently had in mind the strengthening of the ideological loyalty among the teaching staff and students at the main university in order to keep the youth movement at bay. Previously, Korol was the rector of the Kupala State University in Grodno, where he held purges among the disloyal teaching staff.
The trend for the renewal of mid-ranking executives and their rejuvenation has confirmed. The age of the Culture Minister and three new rectors varies from 39 to 44 years old.