In early November Aleksandr Lukashenko took part in the official ceremony to launch production at the Belarusian National Biotechnology Corporation (BNBC). The president repeatedly called this enterprise "more than outer space". China was one of the investors. While talking to BNBC workers, the president announced upcoming talks with China President Xi Jinping. Let's find out why it is so important for Belarus to have biotechnologies and how they can convert a couple of hundreds of U.S. dollars into millions. Let's recall what joint projects Belarus and China can be proud of and how Xi Jinping helped Aleksandr Lukashenko's dream come true. Details are in the latest episode of BelTA's project After the Fact: Lukashenko's Decisions.
Why did Belarus start to advance relations with China?
“We highly appreciate our relations with the People's Republic of China. I am sure, whatever the times in Belarus, the friendship between the Belarusian and Chinese peoples will last for centuries,” Aleksandr Lukashenko said these words back in 2001 at a meeting with China President Jiang Zemin, who was in Belarus on a state visit.
Even then Belarus adopted a policy in favor of advancing strategic relations with China. But the head of state saw a promising partner in China even before his presidency. Aleksandr Lukashenko said he had visited China when he was a member of the parliament, he had studied China's experience – the so-called points of growth, thanks to which China made a leap in its development.
“There was a good episode in my life when I proposed to adopt the experience of China in Belarus after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Instead of destroying the existing system we could have preserved both the party and the state system. But back then we had too many liberals who chose the Western path of development and the parliament did not support me. Intuitively, even then - before my presidency - I realized that the future of our planet belongs to China. As you can see, I was not mistaken,” the president noted during negotiations with Premier of the State Council of the People's Republic of China Li Keqiang in Beijing in 2016.
What do all-weather partnership relations mean?
The fact that Belarus was extremely interested in cooperation with China can be deduced from the number of visits that Aleksandr Lukashenko made to China. The president has visited China 12 times. The number includes trips to participate in major summits but even then the head of state met with Chinese colleagues. Aleksandr Lukashenko made his first official visit to China in January 1995. It resulted in the signing of a declaration on the further development and deepening of cooperation between the two countries.
During the latest meeting between Aleksandr Lukashenko and Xi Jinping relations of all-weather and all-round strategic partnership were established between Belarus and China. The relevant declaration was adopted in Samarkand during negotiations on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit.
But what does the new status of Belarusian-Chinese cooperation mean? First Deputy Prime Minister Nikolai Snopkov explained that in 1996 China began to classify its relations with other countries. The system has 11 main criteria and various subtypes – a total of 24 levels. The declaration adopted in Samarkand is the highest level of cooperation. China has established an all-weather strategic partnership with only three countries. One of them is Belarus, the other two are Russia and Pakistan.
Why does Belarus need a biotechnology enterprise?
CITIC Construction is the main Chinese investor in Belarus. CITIC Construction is one of the largest state investment corporations in China. Belarus and CITIC Construction reached the first agreements on joint projects back in 2007. Back then the sides agreed on the construction of new cement plants and the modernization of power supply for the existing cement plants in Belarus.
Over time, investments in Belarus have acquired strategic importance for China. Let's start with the BNBC. Not everyone realizes the significance and scope of this project. But they should.
The Belarusian National Biotechnology Corporation already makes over 50 types of compound feed, premixes, and essential amino acids for animals. For example, the same amino acids cost hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars. Belarus used to import them in order to produce high-quality feed. And now it will satisfy the domestic demand and export some.
The enterprise will consist of 12 independent manufacturing facilities for deep processing of grain using a single technological chain. A territory as large as 160 hectares is needed to build all that, including infrastructure facilities. Or almost as much as 230 football fields.
“I compared our BNBC production to outer space. I think it's cooler than outer space. Launching into space is not a problem. But creating such a manufacturing facility is much more difficult,” Aleksandr Lukashenko stated as he visited the enterprise.
Why does Aleksandr Lukashenko call this space technology? Just imagine: in order to get an essential amino acid, you need to grind grain into flour, then ferment it and break down the resulting substances several times. Very complex and expensive biotechnologies are involved. It is no accident that this enterprise is a unique agro-industrial complex in the entire post-Soviet space.
“To compare: if we take one tonne of raw grain priced at about $200 on the world market, we can convert it into a finished product worth about $8,000 per tonne after several stages (the amino acid manufacturing process has six of them),” BNBC Director for Economy and Finance Vasilina Akhramovich explained.
But that's not all. In a few years the BNBC will build a facility to make a full range of B and C vitamins. That is definitely a space technology! Only a few countries in the world have such technologies. And Belarus will be one of them.
Vitamin production is even more complicated that the production of essential amino acids: the latter has six stages while vitamin production has 14 stages. Respectively it is a much more complicated and advanced process. The added value is much higher. Why? Because those are no longer animal feed products but products for pharmaceutical and food applications. Respectively the value is higher. That project is designed to process corn. “If a tonne of corn is priced at $200-250, we will make a product that will cost tens of thousands of U.S. dollars. Or millions of dollars if we talk about pharmaceutical quality,” Vasilina Akhramovich remarked.
This is why the creation of the BNBC is compared to the construction of a nuclear power plant, to space programs and the creation of the Hi-Tech Park. Even the American magazine World Grain calls the construction of the Belarusian National Biotechnology Corporation a new era in Belarusian agriculture.
Vasilina Akhramovich said: “We intend to accomplish colossal tasks. Even during the first year, at the start we secured rather good economic indicators. The share of export in our earnings is already 70%. It is a very good start. Once fully operational, the project will generate about $400,000 per employee. To compare: projects of the future, which are assessed by the Economy Ministry, can have $60,000 per employee.”
Of course, it would be impossible to build such production facilities without the participation of the Chinese side. CITIC Construction acted not only as the BNBC general contractor, but also as a shareholder. Which means it directly invests money in this project.
Aleksandr Lukashenko is particularly grateful to his Chinese counterpart: “I want to thank my good old friend Xi Jinping . If it were not for his decision... It was a strong-willed decision. Everything depended on the president of the People's Republic of China. And during my talks with him I just made a request in a human and friendly way. I am deeply grateful to the man for his support.”
By the way, during the pandemic CITIC found itself in a difficult situation. The company had suspended projects around the world. All but one - the Belarusian National Biotechnology Corporation. Belarus did not close the borders or introduce thoughtless restrictions and the project was successfully implemented. It also means a lot for the Chinese side.
How was the China-Belarus industrial park Great Stone established?
Now let's go back to 2010 for a moment. To another meeting between Aleksandr Lukashenko and Xi Jinping. Back then he visited Belarus as a vice president of the People's Republic of China. The idea of creating a joint platform for investment cooperation was put forward during those talks. And a year later the governments signed an agreement on the Chinese-Belarusian industrial park.
A few years later Aleksandr Lukashenko and China President Xi Jinping visited the construction site of the industrial park Great Stone. Xi Jinping called the industrial park the pearl of the new Silk Road while Forbes experts described it as an emerald of economic growth in Belarus. For sure. The total cost of the project, the scale of which is so large that the implementation will span decades, is estimated at $30 billion.
Six high-tech companies from China and Belarus became new residents of the park in early November 2022. They will make agricultural machines, innovative printed products, will pursue business opportunities in the area of bioengineering technologies and Big Data storage. One of the residents is a major Belarusian logistics operator. It intends to build a large multimodal terminal, said First Deputy Head of the Great Stone Park Administration Piotr Yakimov.
Today the park is home to nearly 100 resident companies from 15 countries. The volume of declared investments is close $1.3 billion. The money will be spent on investment projects and the development of the park's infrastructure.
In 2021 revenue from sales of products made by Great Stone resident companies totaled Br370 million, almost doubling in comparison with the previous year. The resident companies are engaged in mechanical engineering, electronics and telecommunications, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, e-commerce, platforms for big data storage and processing. 2021 saw more than 50 investment projects being implemented in Belarus with participation of Chinese companies. Including 44 in the China-Belarus industrial park Great Stone.
Piotr Yakimov said: “By 2025 we expect the number of our resident companies to be at least 170 while the total number of people working in the park will be about 5,000. We would like and we will develop infrastructure projects to accommodate these grandiose plans. We will develop not only industrial infrastructure but also social infrastructure so that in the future the park could become a genuine satellite town of Minsk and of course an industrial cluster.”
What did Aleksandr Lukashenko dream about and how did his dream come true?
And now let's talk about Aleksandr Lukashenko's dream. It has already come true and is directly related to this publication. Can you guess what it's about? It is about the production of cars in Belarus.
Chinese partners have played their part in it, too. They supported Belarus financially and technologically. A brand new plant had to be built for the sake of a complete assembly cycle - welding, painting and assembly itself. It required $300 million in investments. The new plant has hired more than 1,300 people.
The Belarusian-Chinese joint venture appeared between Borisov and Zhodino in 2011. The first car rolled off the assembly line in February 2013.
“Our friends responded to my request and helped create this wonderful plant. Moreover, they also provided loans. Therefore, first of all, I want to say today that my dream of making my own car has come true," the president said during the BelGee opening ceremony in 2017.
In what projects is China involved in Belarus?
In September 2022 Aleksandr Lukashenko met with First Deputy President of CITIC Construction Yang Jianqiang. They discussed the possible construction of a nitrogen complex, a paper production shop at Svetlogorsk Pulp and Cardboard Mill.
The project to build the nitrogen complex in Belarus provides for the creation of modern facilities with the output capacity of 920,000 tonnes of ammonia per year and 1.29 million tonnes of carbamide per year. Belarusian specialists were sent to factories in China in order to later on give an accurate answer whether it is possible to build and operate similar facilities in Belarus.
The construction of a paper production facility continues at Svetlogorsk Pulp and Cardboard Mill. The engineering preparation of the construction site has already been completed. Now it is necessary to supply equipment, carry out construction, installation and commissioning work. Svetlogorsk Pulp and Cardboard Mill and the Chinese company are negotiating contracts now.
CITIC Construction is also building a potash processing plant for Slavkaliy and a multifunctional hotel and business complex in Pobeditelei Avenue in Minsk.
According to Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus to China Yuri Senko, Belarus offers rather great opportunities for mining mineral resources to Chinese friends. In particular, peat which is necessary for agriculture today. The entire world is worried about food security these days.
“About 9,000 peat deposits have been discovered in Belarus, including 88 ones already available for mining. Four Belarusian enterprises were accredited to sell processed peat products to Chinese customers in the last month alone. It is a new product we are going to offer to the Chinese market,” the diplomat said.
Belarus also invites China to mine quartz. Negotiations between the embassy and a major quartz processing company took place at an international expo in Shanghai. “Today we handed over all the necessary materials for studying Belarusian opportunities. Belarus has quartz deposits, which can last for 70 years of active development,” Yuri Senko remarked.
Experts believe that Belarus and China could also think about joint manufacturing projects in the area of light industry and woodworking. “Those products could be made not only for Russia and Belarus but also for China. It seems that those are quite remote projects. Russia is braking them too hard for now while Belarus could seize the opportunity. For instance, Belarus could set up furniture factories in Russia's Irkutsk Oblast together with Chinese partners,” the sinologist and publicist Nikolai Vavilov suggested.
Why did China gift a stadium and a swimming pool to Belarus?
Another symbol of friendship between the two countries was the construction of "Chinese gifts" in Minsk - the National Stadium and an international-class swimming pool. Belarus will receive a football stadium of the highest UEFA category and the swimming pool absolutely free of charge as a gift from China in recognition of close economic cooperation. The total amount of gratitude turned out to be generous - $235 million.
The turnkey gift is being built by the Chinese themselves. Our builders only prepared the territory: they cleared the site and laid down communications. If the actual stadium turns out to be as beautiful as the design is, then it will become a real decoration of Minsk. It's nice to receive such gifts simply because you are a good friend and reliable partner.
But it is exactly how Xi Jinping refers to the Belarusian leader. “Dear President Lukashenko, my good friend, I am very glad to meet with you. It is our first face-to-face meeting since the pandemic began. A meeting of old friends is always warm. Our bilateral relations have been incessantly advancing over the 30 years of China-Belarus diplomatic relations. Together with Mister President the reached agreements are being effectively realized, all-round cooperation of the two countries is characterized by strength and resilience,” the China president stated during a meeting in Samarkand.
The exact date of the next meeting between Aleksandr Lukashenko and Xi Jinping has not yet been announced. The venue of the talks is yet unknown. But since the leaders of the two countries manage to make vital and unprecedented decisions even on the sidelines of summits, there is no doubt that the upcoming talks between Aleksandr Lukashenko and Xi Jinping will result in new mutually beneficial and high-profile projects. And we will definitely tell you about their results.