China hosts Belarus leader Lukashenko while the US warns against helping Russia in the war

Hong Kong (CNN) China He is preparing to welcome a key authoritarian ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin on an official visit, amid warnings from US officials that… Beijing Perhaps you are considering helping Moscow in its ongoing assault on Ukraine.

China’s Foreign Ministry announced Sunday that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is scheduled to hold talks with Chinese officials in Beijing from Tuesday to Thursday at the invitation of Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

His trip comes after the two leaders agreed to elevate their countries’ relations to an “all-weather strategic partnership” during a September meeting on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Uzbekistan, which Putin also attended.

The visit of Lukashenko – who allowed the Russian troops Use Belarus to launch their initial incursion into Ukraine last year – comes as tensions between the US and China have escalated in recent weeks, including because of concerns From Washington that Beijing is considering sending lethal aid to the Kremlin’s faltering war effort.

Beijing backtracked on the allegations, with its foreign ministry saying on Monday that China was “actively promoting peace talks and a political settlement of the crisis,” while the United States was “pouring deadly weapons into the battlefield in Ukraine.”

And despite its “borderless” partnership with Russia, China claims to be a neutral party to the Ukraine conflict.

On Friday, Beijing released a dossier position 12 points on a “political solution” to the crisis in a document calling for peace talks to end the year-long war. However, Western leaders criticized its launch, accusing China of already siding with Russia.

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Xi has yet to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky since the start of the Russian invasion, though he has spoken with Putin on multiple occasions, including in person during Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit.

In an interview with the official Chinese news agency Xinhua prior to his visit, Lukashenko was quoted as saying that the position paper was a testament to China’s peaceful foreign policy and a new and innovative move that will have far-reaching impact.

While burgeoning economic ties between China and Belarus are expected to be a major component of the talks this week, the conflict in Ukraine will cloud the discussions.

Belarus has been targeted by sweeping sanctions from the United States and its allies in response to Moscow’s aggression after Lukashenko allowed Russian forces to invade Ukraine across the 1,000km-long Ukraine-Belarusian border north of Kiev.

Belarus had already been fraught with Western powers, with the European Union not recognizing the outcome of Lukashenko’s 2020 election victory – which sparked mass pro-democracy protests in the country and was followed by a brutal crackdown by the government.

There have been fears throughout the conflict in Ukraine that Belarus will again be used as a staging area for another Russian offensive, or that Lukashenko’s own forces will join the war. before visiting Moscow earlier this monthLukashenko claimed that there was “no way” for his country to send troops to Ukraine unless it was attacked.

The backdrop of damaged relations between Belarus and the West – and interest in diversifying an economy dependent on Russia – may make Lukashenko keen to focus on strengthening economic relations with China during this visit.

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Belarus was one of the first countries to join China’s Belt and Road development initiative, which was launched a decade ago, and trade between the two countries last year increased by 33% year-on-year to exceed $5 billion, according to Xinhua.

In a call between Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang and his Belarusian counterpart Sergei Allink on Friday, Qin pledged that China would “support Belarus in its efforts to safeguard national stability and development” and “oppose external interference in Belarus’ internal affairs and illegal unilateral sanctions against the country,” according to a statement released. For the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

On Monday, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said at a regular press conference that Lukashenko’s visit would be “an opportunity to continue further progress in the comprehensive cooperation between the two countries.”

CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen, Zahratullah, Claudia Otto and Rob Pecchetta contributed to this report.

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