Sino-Belarusian cooperation not unique for the region
On October 2nd, the Belarusian House of Representatives ratified a Sino-Belarusian agreement on the military forces, temporarily deployed for joint exercises and training.
Belarus has been consistently reinforcing its cooperation with China, reaching the level of strategic partnership in summer 2013. Strengthening Sino-Belarusian bilateral relations allows Belarus to overcome its excessive dependence on Russia, while there is no progress in Western policy. However, China’s cooperation with Belarus is not exceptional in the region as China also reaches out to other neighbours of Belarus.
Since 2011, following a failed Belarus-EU dialogue, Belarus has put stakes on China and created unprecedented favourable conditions for Chinese investment. At the same time, Belarus has long exaggerated the level of political cooperation with China, calling it a ‘strategic partnership’. However, the ‘strategic’ level of relations was possible only after Lukashenko’s seventh visit to China and occurred later than with other Belarusian neighbours. This summer, the parties signed a declaration on the comprehensive strategic partnership, as well as other agreements, inter alia, on cooperation in aerospace and defence technology.
On the one hand, rhetoric about the exceptional nature of Sino-Belarusian relations is used by Belarus for domestic consumption. Often, an excessive focus on relations with China enables Belarus to compensate for foreign policy failures, especially concerning Belarusian-European relations. On the other hand, by developing cooperation with China, Belarus hopes to make Russia jealous and, as a result, to win certain concessions as the Eurasian Union shapes up.
However, the relationship between China and Belarus is not unique in the region. Signed in 2001, the Good Neighbourhood, Friendship and Cooperation Treaty established a strategic partnership between China and Russia. A Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership between Ukraine and China was signed in summer 2011, and Sino-Polish – in late 2011. ‘Comprehensive strategic partnership’ relations between China and the EU were established in 2003.
Military cooperation between Belarus and China is also not unique. It helps Belarusian military to make steps towards integration in the global security system. Belarus and China have held joint exercises and training in Belarus since 2011. The draft agreement on the status of China’s military forces in Belarus was signed in December 2012.
Thus, Sino-Belarusian relations, inter alia, in the military sphere, are developing in line with regional trends. Belarus seeks to improve cooperation with China by all means. However, the Chinese leaders do not treat their relations with Belarus as something special.
The Belarusian authorities regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.