Over the past year, the current authorities have been developing the concept of “turning Belarus to Asia”. Increasing the role of Asia should be a response to foreign policy challenges. Ryhor Astapeni and Pavel Matsukevich, experts of the Center for New Ideas, argue why the success of relations between Belarus and Asia depends on the quality of relations with the West.
Due to losses due to sanctions, Belarus has a lot in the eyes of Asian countries
It should be noted that Asia, of course, is very different. This is a large list of countries, which includes such states as Israel, India, UAE, Turkey, Russia and many countries of the post-Soviet space. In our Foreign Ministry, for example, Turkey is responsible for the governance of Europe, the diplomatic coverage of Afghanistan is provided by the Embassy of Belarus in Tajikistan, which refers to the governance of Europe. In order not to interfere with everything in a heap, the article deals with the countries of East and Southeast Asia.
Our main export item to Asia is potash fertilizers. Their share in the structure of Belarusian exports to China exceeds 40%. It can be different from country to country, but in general, in the direction we also supply mining dump trucks, trucks, tires, meat and dairy products. There is also cooperation in the military-industrial complex. For example, the Chinese are interested in military technologies, the example of the Belarusian-Chinese “Polonaise”.
Now the pro-government forces are trying to create a theoretical basis for the role of Asian foreign policy. Hence the reasoning that Belarus is interesting as a safe investment haven, a source of methodology for technical re-equipment, industrial cooperation, a base for implementing projects in the military-industrial complex, cybersecurity, and so on. Many of the arguments for a safe investment haven or a base for implementing cybersecurity projects even sound self-ironic.
What the current government does not say is that, having fallen under Western sanctions, Belarus lost a lot in Asian countries, first of all, China. And in principle, it is important not to overestimate your importance. Belarus is not connected with Asia by geography and the absence of common borders objectively minimizes common interests. Further – Belarus is not a critical partner or supplier for any of the Asian countries. Potash supplies to China and India are not counted. No one guarantees that these markets will not go to competitors under market offers.
Old new priority
The government, of course, is trying to strengthen contacts from the region so that the U-turn does not remain just a figure of speech. The Foreign Ministry even managed to hold the Belarusian-Asian Forum in Moscow.
In the near future, there are plans to strengthen the diplomatic presence. Decisions have already been taken to open consulates of Belarus in Mumbai, Ho Chi Minh City and Hong Kong. However, the region requires far more diplomats even without a U-turn. Example: Our embassy in Hanoi consists of five diplomats and is responsible for cooperation with five countries. The embassy in Delhi also covers India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal with modest diplomatic forces, and our diplomatic mission in Indonesia also represents Belarusian interests in the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore. The champion title is in charge of our diplomats in Japan, who are responsible for cooperation with Australia and New Zealand. By the way, from Minsk to Lisbon is closer than from Tokyo to New Zealand. It remains a mystery how such a card of diplomatic coverage counts for success.
Will push it apart. Linguistically and professionally competent personnel are needed by companies that see themselves in this market. You can’t solve this by announcing a reversal. With this appearance of trained personnel in the field, it will simplify communication, but also guarantee not an export breakthrough. All this is from the category of prerequisites, but not a guarantee of business success.
After all, Asia has long been a foreign policy priority for Belarus. If it didn’t work before, then why will it work now?
Not instead, but together
The possibilities of the Asian market largely depend on the level of cooperation with Western countries, or rather, on the possibilities of access to their technologies. For example, the presence of Integral in the Asian markets and the competitiveness of its microcircuits were ensured by the United States, which allocated money to the plant in the early 90s for the purchase of American equipment. The same applies to another important Belarusian player in the Asian market – BELAZ. Its modernization to the last took place with the help of Italian, German and Japanese technological solutions. The sanctions deprived BELAZ and MAZ of the supply of Western engines, the model range was completed. There is no certainty that BELAZ and MAZ will reach their markets with new alternative engines.
On the other hand, in Belarus there have already been several attempts to modernize thanks to Chinese technology (as in the case of the cement industry), but this often ended unsuccessfully for the modernized enterprises.
There is a question, what else Belarus can export to Asia even if we imagine that there will be no obstacles for it. Does Belarus, for example, have so much milk and meat to increase the supply of these products? What else can Belarus offer to the region, in many countries of which the most modern corporations operate?
What China thinks about Belarus can be seen from the fact that the Chinese side is in no hurry to invest real money. In terms of foreign direct investment in Belarus, China ranks only 10th – $ 23.7 million at the end of 2020.
Asian countries may now worry that any cooperation with Belarus is risky from sanctions. There is a threat of the use of secondary sanctions by the United States, and the sanctions spiral itself is still unfolding.
Everything had to be different. In the industrial park “Great Stone”, in which China has invested a lot, but also Western. This industrial park is conceived as a junction of the parts of the world, from where international business begins to develop the market in the direction of the west or east. Most of the international companies that came to the “Great Stone” relied on the notorious stability, and not a protracted political crisis, sectoral sanctions, imprisoned and deceased migrants at the borders.
It is important to understand that Belarus, which is not competitive in the West, cannot be competitive in the East. Europe is interested in the Asian market, because it is the most densely populated region of the Earth, Asia is interested in the European one as capital-intensive and technological. Many enterprises in Europe and Asia are privately owned in a single production chain.
Belarus is now out of this process, Belarusian companies are out of production chains. And in this form, we are not so interesting to both the West and the East.
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