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“Belarus may become China’s foothold in Eastern Europe”

Alexei Maslov. Photo: amaslov.me

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko paid a visit to China on September 28-30. The two countries’ leaders agreed to enhance the cooperation and signed several dozens of agreements. How fruitful was the visit and will it boost the bilateral relations of China and Belarus? Alexei Maslov, a Russian orientalist, answers these and other questions in an interview to EADaily.

Do you think Alexander Lukashenko has achieved the goals set?

Under Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus is trying to come out as an independent actor in the Eastern and Central European market. However, to rebuild its economy, Belarus lacks investments. First, I am speaking about reconstruction of infrastructures, construction of new railways, machine building. Investments in the economy of Belarus can have two sources now – Russia and China. Approximately, since 2012, China has provided not large tranches to the economy of Belarus. However, there has been no big investments for a long time. Now, China is changing its policy for a number of reasons. First, it has become evident that Lukashenko’s regime is rather steady. A devoted friend of Moscow, Lukashenko is still able to wage an independent policy.

Second, China extremely needs a foothold in Central and Eastern Europe. Beijing has been investing much in economy of Ukraine recently, but the instable regime in Kiev cannot be a foothold for China in Eastern Europe.

The next very important circumstance for Belarus is the development of direct trade with China in terms of the Belarusian ruble and Chinese yuan. Shifting to direct payments is a significant measure, as it optimizes trade.

After the talks, China has promised to invest in reconstruction of the machine-building industry of Belarus. Therefore, Lukashenko’s visit to China can be called successful.

Is this a mutually advantageous, balanced cooperation?

I think it is mutually advantageous. Belarus may prove to be one of the largest suppliers of foodstuffs to China – something China needs extremely. In addition, Belarus will receive direct investments.

Was there a breakthrough in the talks in your opinion?

No, there was not. Those were planned talks, as the sides have been paving the way to it for several years already. It is noteworthy that China is closely working with the Central and Eastern Europe. It will eventually start developing a free trade area with Eastern Europe, and, maybe, Belarus will become one of its footholds there.

Will the development of the Belarusian-Chinese relations affect Russia? Will Moscow gain or suffer any losses from that cooperation?

I think Russia neither gains nor loses from that. Anyway, Lukashenko demonstrates his dependence on Russia and other countries. Of course, we can have concerns that Belarus may become part of China’s big arc of influence bypassing Russia. Nonetheless, Lukashenko has always observed reasonable distance between his partners. That is why I think nothing of the kind is possible here.

Could you name the most important arrangement made during the visit?

Perhaps, those were the promises of big investments in Belarus. I suppose it was the most important achievement.

For conclusion, could you forecast the future of the Chinese-Belarusian relations and the prospects of the two countries’ cooperation?

I suppose, Belarus is the most interesting partner for China in Central Europe. Therefore, I think it will be increasing its investments in Belarus. We will see that within the coming five-seven years.

Interviewed by Kristina Melnikova

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October 2016
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