Will China continue with its BRI projects in Belarus?
The political crisis in Belarus -erupted following the August 9 presidential election, which showed the president Alexander Lukashenko winning a landslide re-election victory- that led to mass demonstrations by protesters alleging that the official election results were fraudulent, made several newspapers analysts asked themselves if the unrest will affect the Belt and Road projects already ongoing in Belarus powered by China.
Some of them predict that the actual crisis in Belarus will not pose threats on projects under the Belt and Road Initiative in that country. Instead, others affirm these projects could be derailed as the crisis continued.
It is not the intention of this analysis to try to guess what might happen to the BRI projects in Belarus in relation to the evolution of the crisis that hits the country, but to argue that China will try to continue BRI investments in Belarus, regardless of how the crisis evolves. The strategic importance of Belarus for China and the money that has already been disbursed by the Chinese government and Chinese companies related to BRI projects in that country allowed such averment.
Belarus is located near the port cities of the Baltic Sea and on the crossroads of major land transit routes between Europe and Asia, it served as a potential gateway to the European Union’s market, the ultimate prize in Beijing’s BRI plans, for Chinese goods traveling across Eurasia.
Eight rail container routes on the China-Western Europe trade pass through Belarus, enabling cargo to move much faster between China and Germany via Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus and Poland.
In addition, Belarus became indispensable to the BRI after the crisis in Ukraine, the country that was previously the focus of Chinese efforts to connect the BRI with Europe. (*)
Regarding money disbursements, since the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, Chinese investors have poured US $ 1.6 billion into Belarus, mainly in transport, logistics and energy, key sectors for the BRI.
China’s largest investment in Belarus is the Great Stone Industrial Park, China’s largest overseas development project. It has already attracted more than $ 1 billion in investment from at least 56 foreign companies.
Furthermore, last year Chinese financial institutions opened a US $ 15 billion line of credit to Development Bank of the Republic of Belarus.
These facts allow argue that China will try to continue their BRI projects in Belarus, regardless of how the crisis evolves.
The question we analysts should ask ourselves is what China will do if the crisis in Belarus leads to a “color revolution” and the installation of a pro-Western government as predicted by various analysts.
(*) Belarus itself was certainly not China’s first choice for BRI. Initially, China thought of Ukraine. However, 2014 Euromaidan Revolution, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Eastern Ukraine forced Beijing to throw those plans away and find in Belarus a new route to Europe for its Belt and Road Initiative.
International Relations Analyst/
Master in International Relations