For the first time in a long time, China acts as a more interested party within Belarusian-Chinese military cooperation. Minsk now must show healthy self-esteem and exchange its political support for something more worthy than tied Chinese loans and low-quality equipment.
Amid increased criticism towards China in the West for her response to the coronavirus outbreak, and an escalation with Washington, Beijing is vigorously looking for political allies in the international arena, including among defense agencies.
On May 14th, 2020, Defense Ministers Khrenin and Wei Fenghe held a telephone conversation to discuss response measures to address the coronavirus outbreak and bilateral cooperation in this regard. The Chinese Defense Minister emphasized the importance and significance of bilateral military cooperation and China’s willingness to develop such cooperation in areas of mutual interest. The Chinese side initiated the conversation. Moreover, in April-May, Wei Fenghe held similar conversations with his counterparts from partner states. Judging by Belarusian and Chinese defense ministries reports, China’s interest in cooperating with Belarus has increased.
That said, in the past, China provided Belarus with free automotive equipment, armored vehicles, and medical equipment. At that time, Belarus unofficially expressed discontent with the low quality of equipment provided by China. The last known agreement was concluded in April 2018 during Wei Fenghe’s visit to Belarus.
In August 2017, Aliaksandar Lukashenka invited China to consider the possibility of establishing high-tech defense enterprises in the Great Stone industrial park featuring both, joint and 100% Chinese capital. The proposal is still open.
Beijing, which has found itself in a complex situation due to the coronavirus outbreak, allegedly believes any political support from any state is important. As the United States mounts pressure on China, Beijing is likely to be increasingly willing to encourage loyalty among its partners. This creates new opportunities for Belarus to receive support from China on Minsk terms, including on defense cooperation. Bilateral military-technical cooperation with China is likely to enhance, including effective Chinese assistance to the Belarusian army.