China-Belarus relations potential to be fully unleashed under upgraded all-weather strategic partnership: envoy
Bilateral trade to reach record high as BRI drives new growth: envoy
By Yin Yeping Published: Sep 28, 2022 11:47 PM
This year is what Belarusian Ambassador to China Yuri Senko (Senko) described as “a very symbolic year” for China-Belarus relations, as it marks not only the 30th anniversary of the diplomatic relations but also historic upgrade to an all-weather comprehensive strategic partnership with leaders of the two countries taking them to a new level.
With the political and mutual trust gained in the bilateral relationship, the economic and trade ties under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have borne fruit as the two countries have found more room for cooperation ranging from infrastructure to agriculture that benefits the people of the two countries and the regional stability and prosperity, despite the world’s growing complex. Senko is grateful to “our Chinese friends” that support them in a variety of situations, despite the difficult world situation.
In an exclusive interview with the Belarusian Ambassador to China, he told the Global Times (GT) reporter how he is confident that the all-weather comprehensive strategic partnership under the BRI will further lead the bilateral relations to a new era.
GT: On September 15, during the meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the leaders of China and Belarus issued a joint statement on the establishment of an all-weather comprehensive strategic partnership. What’s the significance of this joint statement to the bilateral relationship?
Senko: I want to stress that this year we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Belarus and China. It is very symbolic that in the anniversary year for bilateral relations, the leaders of our two countries decided to take them to a new level of all-weather comprehensive strategic partnership.
Moreover, each increase in the level of bilateral relations is a consolidation of what we have achieved in previous years, as well as a reflection of plans for the future. This is a new bar, in sports language, a new height, below which you can’t go down later. We are sincerely grateful to our Chinese friends that despite the difficult world situation, they look in the same direction with us on this issue, and support us in a variety of situations.
The world does not stand still. Having drawn a line under a certain level of relationship, we immediately begin to move on. There are new projects, technologies, with them – new opportunities. New challenges and new difficulties are also growing. Therefore, I am convinced that relations between Belarus and China will also move forward, gaining new content and new characteristics.
GT: The two sides expressed to deepen high-quality cooperation in the joint construction of the “Belt and Road.” How do you evaluate the role that the BRI has played in bilateral economic and trade cooperation? What new cooperation projects can be expected?
Senko: First of all, I would like to note that Belarus was the first European country to officially support and join China’s BRI. President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, at the personal invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, took part in both international summits dedicated to the Belt and Road in Beijing in 2017 and 2019, where he made constructive proposals for the development of the initiative.
Our country is rightfully defined as the support platform of the “Belt and Road” in the Eurasian region. This is facilitated by the favorable geographical position of Belarus along the route of the Silk Road Economic Belt, which has proven its effectiveness by supporting the work of supply chains during the pandemic.
The Belarusian section of the Belt and Road overland route is an extremely important element of the China-Europe railway. Belarus is assigned the role of a hub platform on the way of the transport corridor. Currently, container trains connect 60 cities in China with 170 cities in 23 European countries. On average, about 25 container trains of the China-Europe-China route are provided with transit traffic and terminal processing on the Belarusian Railway per day.
According to the estimates of the Belarusian Railway, the volume of transit container traffic in 2021 increased by 29 percent and amounted to about 930,000 containers. In the China-Europe-China connection, it increased 1.3 times. Taking into account the great potential of the Chinese market, it is possible to predict further growth in traffic volumes.
Our key strategic and most ambitious project with China within the framework of the initiative is the Chinese-Belarusian Industrial Park “Great Stone” with an area of 91.5 square kilometers and 93 organizations from 15 countries are registered in the park today. Visiting the site of the park in 2015, the Chinese President called it the “pearl of the Silk Road Economic Belt.”
Indeed, with the active support of Belarus and China, the park has become the largest and exemplary project in our region.
According to the international edition of the Financial Times, the Great Stone was named the best special economic zone of 2020 within the BRI framework, as well as the most “rapidly developing zone.” The park houses a wide range of companies, including Chinese-Belarusian joint ventures operating in various sectors from biotechnology and pharmaceuticals to storage, data processing and e-commerce.
Graphic: Tang Tengfei/GTGT: China and Belarus will carry out production capacity cooperation and promote the establishment of joint ventures in the fields of machinery manufacturing, automobile (electric) vehicle assembly, agricultural production, and energy. How complementary are China and Belarus in production capacity cooperation? How will such cooperation boost economy of Belarus, the people’s livelihood, and the bilateral trade?
Senko: It should be underlined that cooperation between Chinese and Belarusian industrial enterprises is developing quite intensively in various directions, ranging from the purchase of a wide range of technological equipment, raw materials and materials from China, the supply of Belarusian microelectronics products to China to the creation and operation of joint ventures.
Thanks to the production base of Belarusian enterprises and the high-tech competencies of Chinese companies, the equipment produced in Belarus increased its competitiveness in the markets of third countries, and was also able to meet the domestic needs of Belarus.
A number of developments of Chinese companies are currently at the stage of implementation and testing in the production of individual units of Belarusian agricultural, quarry and truck equipment, for example, the use of electric drive, gas engines and hydraulics.
GT: The joint statement also mentioned that the two sides are willing to provide access for large Chinese enterprises to participate in cooperation projects with Belarus in production capacity and to invest in Belarusian enterprises. Can you elaborate on the convenience that Belarus can provide for Chinese firms?
Senko: In the field of investments, Belarus has created a set of incentive measures that meet international standards. The interests of the foreign investor are fully protected. Investors can take advantage of six free economic zones with preferential treatment in the field of tax, customs, technical legislation.
However, of course, one of the most profitable regimes for conducting investment business in Belarus is the Chinese-Belarusian Industrial Park “Great Stone.”
The Chinese-Belarusian Industrial Park Great Stone in Minsk, Belarus Photo: VCGGT: From January to July, the bilateral import and export volume of goods between China and Belarus was $2.428 billion, a year-on-year increase of 9.2 percent. What is your expectation for the whole year? Will it be the highest level ever?
Senko: Indeed, bilateral trade, having overcome the impact of the epidemic and external adverse factors, demonstrates the dynamics of increase. And in general, I would like to emphasize that by the end of 2021, in rather difficult conditions, we received an increase in trade turnover between our countries of 118 percent to a fairly high base in 2020. Exports and imports reached record values, increasing by 17.5 percent and 10.6 percent, respectively.
In the first half of 2022, the volume of Chinese-Belarusian trade in goods also increased by 10.3 percent compared to the same period last year.
China retains its position as the second trading partner of Belarus after Russia. Belarus is one of the main suppliers to China of potash fertilizers (3rd place), whey (5th place), meat products (chicken and beef (7th and 9th places), rapeseed oil (11th place).
We import technological equipment, communication equipment, components, consuming goods from China. Currently, together with the industry associations of China, we attach great importance to the search for manufacturers of technical equipment, raw materials, materials and components for domestic enterprises.
I believe that by increasing the momentum, the value of bilateral trade will reach new record levels by the end of the year.
GT: During the SCO summit, both sides agreed that ensuring food security is one of the key areas of bilateral cooperation, and the two sides should be committed to promoting the production and processing of agricultural products and improving the supply capacity of high-quality food. Can you tell us more about this area of cooperation?
Senko: Following the goals of strategic cooperation, we strive to maximize the production and trade potential of our countries. Belarusian products are in demand in the Chinese market, the Embassy constantly receives requests from Chinese companies to establish business contacts with Belarusian manufacturers, the range of products supplied is expanding.
We are organizing cooperation with China in the field of high-tech, innovative, resource-saving, “smart” agriculture, as well as introduce new highly productive varieties of traditional and non-traditional crops. Considerable attention is paid to the development of new agricultural machinery, equipment and technologies for the production and processing of agricultural products, especially in terms of deep processing of raw materials.
Given the considerable distances for transportation, it makes sense to concentrate efforts on the production of high-margin and technological products, for example, specialized nutrition for certain groups of the population such as children’s, medical, and sports nutrition.
We have a significant potential in the field of scientific and technical cooperation. For example, on the basis of the Belarusian State Agricultural Academy, with the participation of experts from the Northwestern University of Agriculture and Forestry in Northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, variety tests of wheat, millet and some other crops are being conducted. We plan to involve all agricultural universities of Belarus, as well as scientific and practical centers of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus in this work.