BEIJING, 28 February (BelTA) – Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko arrived in China on a state visit. The Belarusian air force one touched down in the Beijing airport, BelTA has learned.
This visit will be part of the long-standing policy to promote friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation with the People's Republic of China. In September 2022, at a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit, the leaders of Belarus and China adopted a joint declaration to advance relations to a new level - an all-weather and comprehensive strategic partnership.
The heads of state will take stock of what has been achieved and will outline plans to maximize the potential of the new level of cooperation. Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko and President of China Xi Jinping will hold talks in narrow and expanded formats. The focus will be on trade, economy, investment and humanitarian cooperation, the implementation of large-scale joint projects, political contacts, and response to the most acute international challenges of today.
A large package of documents in key areas of cooperation is expected to be signed.
The state visit of Aleksandr Lukashenko to China will conclude on 2 March. While in Beijing the Belarusian president is set to hold a number of meetings with the Chinese leadership and senior executives of China's biggest corporations.
Intuition that proved right
In the capacity of the president of Belarus, Aleksandr Lukashenko has visited China 12 times. However, even before taking up the top job, he had paid much attention to cooperation with this country.
“I traveled to China when I was a parliament member. I was interested in free economic zones, their legal regimes, the benefits they might bring to the state," he said. “In the parliament I was the main lobbyist (as they call it now) for cooperation with China. The visit validated this conviction of mine. Then, rather intuitively, I felt that just in a couple of decades China would become one of the world's powerhouses and that we needed to learn from China.”
The visit took place just after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Belarus was looking for ways out of the difficult situation in which it found itself. "I proposed to turn to the experience of China. The Belarusian parliament, especially its nationalist wing, did not listen to this much, and I was strongly criticized for this. But the government (led by Vyacheslav Kebich then) already had some ties with your country," Aleksandr Lukashenko said. Then, according to him, the belief of the need to tap into the Chinese experience grew stronger especially since Belarus, already sovereign and independent, had something to offer to that country.
“In the Soviet Union, the technological level, the level of innovation, new ideas was enormous. Belarus was the center of new technologies. Back then all our negotiations were not only about trade, but primarily about investment and new technologies. China was interested in any new technology. We shared the technologies that the Chinese people and the state were interested in. Looking ahead, I will say that today it is Belarus who is learning new technologies from China: from biotechnology to defense. You've made significant progress. Since then, you have become the world's major power. You are an important part in every decision-making process,” the Belarusian leader said.
The president expects that there will be no obstacles from China in this process. “We didn't spare anything for China then. It is China's turn to help us. First of all, I mean new areas of cooperation - Great Stone. We are waiting for more companies from China, high-tech enterprises to register with the park,” he said.
According to the head of state, the further development of the Belarusian National Biotechnology Corporation (BNBC) is of great interest to Belarus. “This is a joint venture. We have completed two stages. We need a third one - the launch of a vitamins factory. I think that Xi Jinping will help us in this regard. Why I say Xi Jinping, because it was only thanks to his decision that this program became possible. Four or five states in the world have such industries. China helped us create such a biotechnology corporation. These are the highest technologies,” the president said.
Over the years of fruitful joint work, cooperation between Belarus and China has risen to the level of an all-weather and comprehensive strategic partnership. "There are very few states with which China has such a level of cooperation. We appreciate this very much, given the different between the giant China and our Belarus. We appreciate it very much," Aleksandr Lukashenko stressed. “We have been a reliable friend of the Chinese people in recent decades. And we will always remain so. Not only because I am the president in Belarus. Other presidents will stick to this policy, because it is what our people want. Our people, especially during the period of sanctions from the West, understood who is who and appreciated the friendship of the Belarusian and Chinese peoples.”
China's transformation to a global power
Interestingly, Aleksandr Lukashenko visited China 12 times and the same number of times he met with Xi Jinping during his visits to China, in Belarus and at international venues. The leaders of the two countries have friendly relations.
“I have been to China many times. I will be glad to visit China again in the coming days and meet with the leadership of China, primarily with my old friend Xi Jinping,” the Belarusian leader said in an interview with Chinese journalists.
In his opinion, Xi Jinping is very smart, wise, creative, modern, and the Chinese people made the right decision by electing him for another term as the leader of the PRC. China's development under the leadership of Xi Jinping (and especially his ideas about the need for world peace) will ensure the further normal development of the entire planet, Aleksandr Lukashenko is convinced.
"I had the honor to work with Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao. I knew these leaders. They were worthy sons of the Chinese people," the president said. “They did everything to strengthen China, to set it on the path towards a great power. They were very cautious, careful. They recognized the United States of America as the only power in the world, a global leader. Xi Jinping is different. Xi Jinping has done a lot to make China what it is. China has become great. This is the greatest achievement of Xi Jinping. He did not reject the ideas of Mao Zendong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, or Hu Jintao. He adopted all the best from them and introduced something new (this is his distinctive feature, he is a new type of leader), created a powerful foundation for the development of the Chinese society and the state, on which you actually built a new China. This is the greatest accomplishment of Xi Jinping, and the Chinese people will later appreciate it," the head of state said.
Moreover, Xi Jinping managed to change the character of the Chinese people, who are known for their calmness and deliberateness. "He gave acceleration. He understood that life changed, that speeds were enormous and that if you did not accelerate but sit quietly waiting for something, you could be late. That was the intuitive feeling of Xi Jinping that the slow measured way of doing things inherent in the Chinese people needed changing. It's worth a lot. Things needed to speed up. He felt it and he is leading the Chinese people very quickly along this road. We are ready to go along and be of help in this," the president assured.
Aleksandr Lukashenko believes that it is necessary to bring into line China's Belt and Road Initiative and the new policy of the Eurasian Economic Union. “Great China is welcome to make use of our capacities. The market is huge. Of course, not as big as the Chinese market in terms of population, but still very promising,” Aleksandr Lukashenko noted. “China is making inroads into our direction. Naturally, the EAEU has its own interests and advantages. China should take these interests into account. And it does,” the head of state noted.
Expectations from Lukashenko's visit to China
Belarus' Ambassador to China Yuri Senko told journalists that cooperation with China has been developing for decades. Moreover, over the last 10 years Belarus and China launched many ambitious projects that became the locomotives of economic growth. For example, the number of resident companies of the China-Belarus Industrial Park Great Stone that produce high-tech products is constantly growing. “The interest in the Belarusian industrial park is constantly growing. During the visit of the head of state, meetings are planned with large Chinese businesses that would like to consider launching operations in the park,” the diplomat said.
As of 1 February, 104 companies from 15 countries were registered in the industrial park. The total volume of declared investments was $1.32 billion.
Despite the fact that the year 2022 was quite difficult because of the pandemic and that China had to widen Covid lockdowns, the bilateral trade rose. So did the export of Belarusian products. In terms of export growth to China, Belarus went up from the 136th to the 38th position, which is a very good result. “This suggests that China is interested in buying our products. Belarus has worked out the necessary mechanisms to facilitate trade, it had its products accredited for sale on the Chinese market. Chinese consumers are well aware of Belarusian goods and buy them eagerly. For Chinese buyers Belarusian products are synonymous to high quality and environmental friendliness,” Yuri Senko said.
According to him, more than two dozen documents are planned to be signed during the visit. Some of them will have an immediate effect, while others will have a delayed effect as it will be necessary to develop various programs and roadmaps to implement them. Yet, the ambassador is sure that each agreement will give a powerful impetus to bilateral cooperation in all areas - from trade and investment to culture and sports.
Many enterprises have already switched to yuan in settlements with Chinese partners, and there are practically no problems here. “The choice of currency depends on considerations of convenience. There are practically no difficulties. The situation is absolutely normal, it has stabilized. We will keep fine-tuning this mechanism in the short term,” Yuri Senko assured.
In addition to the state visit of Aleksandr Lukashenko, delegations of the Belarusian government, ministries and government agencies are set to come to China in the near future to elaborate on the agreements reached.
China remains one of the three biggest trading partners of Belarus. In 2022, the trade between Belarus and China amounted to $5.79 billion, up by 13% over 2021. Export of goods was estimated at $1.61 billion, import at $4.18 billion. Belarus mostly exported potash fertilizers, beef, poultry meat and edible offal, timber, milk, condensed cream and dry cream. Active work is underway to eliminate technical barriers to trade. As of 14 February 2023, 172 export registration numbers for 149 Belarusian food producers were registered by the General Administration of Customs of the People's Republic of China.
Investment cooperation with China is also vibrant. This manifests in several dozen projects with investments of hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars. With the use of Chinese government loans under the loan agreements, Belarus has implemented 25 projects worth about $4.73 billion. Four projects worth $2.26 billion are currently being implemented.
Technical and economic assistance for more than 1.5 billion yuan (about $243 million) for 14 projects has been disbursed.
More than 500 direct cooperation agreements have been signed between higher educational institutions of Belarus and China. Currently, 477 Belarusian citizens are studying in China, and about 6,000 Chinese citizens are studying in Belarus. More than 15 joint educational programs have been developed for 2021-2022. In September 2022, first students were enrolled in the biotechnology program developed by Belarusian State University and Peking University.
In terms of healthcare, in 2021-2022 China gave Belarus 4.9 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine produced by Sinopharm Corporation on a gratuitous basis. Belarus also purchased 4.6 million doses of the vaccine. Particular attention is paid to the development of traditional Chinese medicine in Belarus. Joint work is underway with China to improve the regulatory framework for the use of traditional Chinese medicine in the national healthcare system of Belarus.
As for medicine, Belarusian Healthcare Minister Dmitry Pinevich, who is already in Beijing, shared some details with journalists. "We already held a fairly large number of meetings prior to the visit. Not only and not so much in Beijing. We traveled to two provinces and reached a number of agreements, in particular, on the supply of medical equipment and medical products, and also on the method of work in terms of supply of substances and a number of drugs produced in China with the aim of further localization in Belarus. A meeting was held with the association of manufacturers at Sinopharm, which all of us know thanks to the supply of vaccines," the head of the ministry said.
According to him, in the run-up to the visit of the head of state, meetings were held at the Chinese Ministry of Health to discuss issues of strategic cooperation. "Most of all we talked about how to develop relations in the future. Both in terms of the healthcare system as a whole and in terms of development of the Great Stone Industrial Park, where we are planning to localize the production of medical equipment, medical products, and traditional Chinese medicine preparations. We are set to build medical centers. They will deal with traditional Chinese medicine and with the medicine, European in our understanding, which is also well developed in China," the minister said.
In general, China shows great interest in the areas where Belarus has accumulated best practices, for example, in transplantology, traumatology, and cardiac surgery, Dmitry Pinevich added.