“I have the warmest, kindest memories from my first visit to China, from my first impressions of the country, and from my cooperation with the leaders of the People’s Republic of China,” Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko told Xinhua in an exclusive interview ahead of his visit to China.
This year marks the 31st anniversary of China-Belarus diplomatic relations, which have been continuously strengthened and upgraded, with solid progress in all-round cooperation through these years.
On Sept. 15, 2022, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Lukashenko met in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on the sidelines of the 22nd meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The two heads of state decided to elevate bilateral relations to the level of an all-weather comprehensive strategic partnership. China-Belarus relations have reached their highest level in history.
Lukashenko has high hopes for his upcoming visit to China. “I have been to China many times. I am very glad to visit China again in the coming days and meet with the Chinese leader, my old friend President Xi Jinping, a very smart, wise, creative and modern person,” the Belarusian president noted.
During the interview, Lukashenko looked back on his previous visits to China, recalling his first visit to China as the president of Belarus over two decades ago as well as his earlier trips as a member of parliament to China’s special economic zones.
At that time, China was not the same as it is now, he said. “The population was huge… Everyone had to be fed and dressed. China needed to strengthen national defense. Everything was not easy. However, China was determined to achieve all of these,” Lukashenko said.
After visiting China, Lukashenko said he felt that in just a couple of decades China would achieve significant development, so China’s experience should be learned.
The president noted that Belarus had drawn on China’s experience, primarily that regarding special economic zones. “Based on this, we have established several free economic zones, including the Great Stone China-Belarus Industrial Park… China’s experience lay at the heart of it,” he said.
The industrial park mentioned by Lukashenko is the largest project to attract investment in Belarus and a landmark cooperation project within the Belt and Road framework, which was promoted by the two heads of state personally and prized by the two governments. Since the two countries’ leaders visited the industrial park in May 2015, development and construction of the project have forged ahead, and fruitful results have been achieved.
According to the National Statistical Committee of Belarus, the net profit of the enterprises of the industrial park totals 34.1 million Belarusian rubles (13.51 million U.S. dollars) in 2022, up by 144 percent from the previous year.
Reviewing the development of the industrial park in recent years, Lukashenko said that progress has been made despite the COVID-19 pandemic along with other crises and problems. Last year alone, there had been 19 enterprises moving in.
The latest statistics showed that there had been 107 companies in the industrial park by Feb. 22, 2023, with seven new enterprises settling in the park this year.
“Chinese President Xi Jinping once described the Great Stone as ‘a pearl along the Silk Road Economic Belt,'” said Lukashenko, adding that Belarus attaches great importance to the development of the industrial park and provides many preferential policies including tax exemptions. “This is very beneficial for business,” he stressed.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative. Belarus, as an important transit hub on the Silk Road Economic Belt, was one of the first countries to respond and participate in the initiative.
With the growth of biliteral ties, China and Belarus have seen a boom in trade over the past years. Statistics from the General Administration of Customs of China show that two-way trade surpassed 5 billion dollars in 2022, up by 33 percent year on year.
Lukashenko said that Belarus has a strong machine manufacturing sector. Currently the two countries are engaged in dialogue on issues of industrial policy.
“Today, we are already learning from China’s new technologies, which are of interest to us. And this concerns all sectors, from the biotechnology to national defense. China has made significant progress,” Lukashenko said.
“We are expecting more high-tech enterprises from China to join the industrial park,” he said.
In recent years, China and Belarus have deepened cooperation in the field of scientific and technological innovation.
The Belarusian National Biotechnology Corporation (BNBC) project, a “high-tech full-cycle agriculture project,” which includes the first amino acid manufacturing plant in Belarus and built in cooperation with China, was officially put into operation in the Minsk region on Nov. 4, 2022.
The BNBC is the first amino acid production enterprise in Belarus and the first import-substituting project in the industry of deep grain processing. Lukashenko said that the project would elevate the technological capability of the country and become the locomotive of national development.
Thanks to Xi’s leadership, the project was able to implement, Lukashenko said, adding that “this is highly advanced technology. Not many countries in the world have such production facilities. China has helped us create such a biotech corporation.”
The Belarusian president also mentioned that his youngest son is currently studying biotechnology in a joint training program between the two countries.
China has achieved great development and plays an important role in international affairs, he said, adding that China has become a major country with an independent policy and “today, not a single issue in the world can be resolved without China.”
Expressing his firm belief that China will, as always, pursue an independent foreign policy of peace, Lukashenko said that China’s position paper on political settlement of Ukraine crisis is a testimony to its peaceful foreign policy as well as a new and original step that will have a far-reaching impact all over the world.
On the U.S. downing of a Chinese civilian unmanned airship, Lukashenko called it “a very unfriendly step” and a “show” deliberately staged by the United States for political reasons.
“Today, no one can contain China or stop its development,” the Belarusian president said.