On August 19, China called for respecting Belarus’ sovereignty and its people’s choice in handling the political instability, while reaffirming the high-level partnership between the two countries. One day ago, China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said at the UN meeting that what’s happening in Belarus was the country’s internal affairs and it did not pose any threat to regional or international peace and security. In this regard, the situation in Belarus was not a matter for the Security Council at the request by the U.S. and Estonia. What China has demonstrated was its firm support to its strategic partners Russia and Belarus to work together on the thorny issue in Belarus.
In fact, Russia and President Putin particularly have expressed concern over the attempts of some countries to put pressure on the Belarusian leadership and in every possible way to destabilize the political situation in the country. By doing so, Putin and European Council President Charles Michel discussed the situation in Belarus in a phone call, following Putin’s phone calls on the same issue with German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron, which are the two key pillars of the European Union. It was reported that President Putin told his French and German counterparts that interference in the internal affairs of Belarus or exerting pressure on the country’s leadership would be unacceptable. He also warned that any attempts to interfere may lead to a further escalation of the crisis, and therefore Russia was prepared to provide military assistance to Belarus in the event of an external threat.
Historically, Belarus is not only a key neighbor to Russia but also was a major part of the country. Since 1992 when it became independent, the two countries have been close allies. In geopolitical and legal terms, Russia is committed to offering Belarus military assistance if something becomes necessary. As Moscow said recently, as far as the collective security treaty and union state treaty are concerned, it is self-evident that there are various obligations between the sides for mutual help, but there is currently no such need. Due to this reality, Putin’s Russia won’t sit idly by. There is real danger of military coup in Belarus like Ukraine previously because the Western countries intervened there by paying their NGOs and other influences. However, the situation in Belarus is more complex than it was in Ukraine, as a well-known Czech scholar Marek Hrubec observed, “First, President Lukashenko has been a long-term friend and cooperator with Russia, yet he played a dangerous game over the past years when he dealt with the US (with Pompeo, for example) against Belarus-Russia good relations. Second, so far there is not a division of Belarus between two political groups (one in favor of Russia, and other against Russia) like in Ukraine.” It seems that both parties want to cooperate with Russia, including opposition politicians. Owing to this, Russia and China have still officially supported Present Lukashenko but the situation inside Belarus is marginal and even uncertain.
Obviously, Alexander Lukashenko is known as a politician trying to make balance between Russia and the West. Yet, now that the U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo denounced the Belarus election as “not free and fair”, and the former Vice President Joe Biden said that the vote was marred by electoral fraud, it does not make sense for Lukashenko to continue to follow a multi-vector foreign policy for the development of Belarus. In any case, after threats of sanctions and harsh rhetoric against Lukashenko, it is unlikely that Belarusian leader will make any U-turns and go westward. Western pressure seems to push Lukashenko deeper into Russia’s geopolitical orbit or traditional Russia’s sphere of influence.
Domestically, Belarus has been engulfed in mass protests after incumbent President Lukashenko won a sixth term in August 9 elections, with the opposition refusing to recognize the results. At first, Lukashenko said at a rally in Minsk that there would be no re-election, adding he could share presidential power in accordance with the country’s constitution. That means President Lukashenko would be willing to hand over powers after a referendum, as he attempts to pacify mass protests and strikes amid growing demands for his resignation. Yet, Lukashenko insisted he would not do so while under pressure from demonstrators.
China and Belarus have been all-weather partners and enjoyed a comprehensive strategic partnership featuring mutual trust and win-win cooperation. Accordingly, China doesn’t want to see the political turmoil in the Eastern European country and opposes any foreign interference in Belarus’ domestic affairs as well as any attempt to divide the country. In effect, President Xi was one of the first foreign heads of state sent his congratulatory message to his counterpart of Belarus. Since August 9, China has reiterated that it respects Belarusian people’s right to choose their own development path and their efforts in defending their country’s independence, sovereignty, security and economic development. This is fully kept in line with the standing of Russia on the issue of Belarus.
In summary, China and Russia have strategic consensus in terms of the global issues. Therefore, stable and wealthy Russia and Belarus will benefit China’s long-term national goal. As a matter of fact, both Russia and Belarus welcome China’s Belt and Road Initiative” which are increasingly integrated into the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union. It is also true that Moscow has long been subsidizing the Belarusian economy and providing cheap crude oil and natural gas to the Eastern European country. On the other hand, any closer integrations with Russia mean more or less the end of the sovereign policy of Belarus, which was the pillar of Lukashenko’s rule since 1994. Changes will undoubtedly come to Belarus, with or without Lukashenko in power. Suppose that Lukashenko has to resign eventually, it is probably for him to be given a chance to “retire” to Moscow and a more pro-Putin leader will take his place, hopefully by election.
China should continue to follow its overall strategic policy to manage good relations with three parts: Russia, Belarus and European Union. As always, Russia is a huge neighbor and closest strategic partner in both geopolitical and geoeconomic terms. Belarus has many overlapping interests with China, though they are not immediate neighbors. In addition, EU is one of the three crucial sources of high-technology, FDI and external market for Chinese needs and goods. In light of this, China does indeed need to make all efforts to resolve the internal unrest in Belarus along with Russia and the EU.