Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu arrived in Belarus on August 16 for a three day official visit, and was received was by his Belarusian counterpart Lieutenant General Viktor Khrenin at Minsk National Airport. The Chinese minister had arrived from Russia after participating in the 11th Moscow Conference on International Security held near Moscow. Although the two defence ministers had met at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s Defence Ministers’ Meeting in late April, this was the first high level visit related to Sino-Belarusian defence cooperation in the past five years, with officials from both two countries expected to outline areas of cooperation for the near future and exchange views on their security situations. The visit comes just days after neighbouring Poland announced that it would significantly expand its military presence on Belarus’ border, after Belarusian authorities had for years raised concerns regarding the expansion of NATO offensive capabilities near their territory. Over the past three years Belarus has significantly strengthened defence ties with Russia, and multiple Russian air defence and fighter units have been redeployed from near China’s borders in the Russian Far East to bases on Belarusian territory.
China and Belarus established close defence ties in the early 1990s, with Belarus being a leading supplier of military equipment to China at the time and at times competing with Russia and Ukraine for contracts. The two have also embarked on joint military programs, most famously the Polonez rocket artillery system which saw Chinese technologies transferred to the Eastern European state. Alongside Serbia, Belarus remains one of just two European countries considered to be outside NATO’s sphere of influence, and is considered top have one of the more capable armed forces among Chinese military partners. Belarus has faced growing tensions with NATO on its Western border, and has recently invested heavily in modernising its armed forces primarily with acquisitions of Russian assets such as S-400 air defence systems and Mi-35 helicopters. China remains a leading Belarusian trading partner, with Chinese trade and technologies having been a primary factor allowing Minsk to endure concerted Western economic warfare efforts from 2020 which escalated further from early 2022.