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Lukashenka Tours South-East Asia

On 22 March Belarus state leader completed his visit to Singapore where he was trying to find new markets. He spent a week in Indonesia and Singapore, together with a delegation of 80 people.

The state of the Belarusian economy is deteriorating,...


On 22 March Belarus state leader completed his visit to Singapore where he was trying to find new markets. He spent a week in Indonesia and Singapore, together with a delegation of 80 people.

The state of the Belarusian economy is deteriorating, relations with the West and Russia remain complicated, the death of friends like Hugo Chavez and contradictions with Ahmadinejad made the Belarusian leadership to look for new partners.

The Belarusian authorities want to become a noticeable player in the South-East and to attract new money to the Belarusian economy. The ultimate goal is to find new trading opportunities matching those with Russia and the EU. Belarus signed contracts for $400 million. 

For the three days of the visit to Indonesia, Lukashenka lobbied increase of mutual goods turnover by two-three times for the upcoming years. President of Indonesia Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono promised to consider the opportunities of investments in Belarus and accepted the invitation to visit Minsk for further negotiations.

The Belarusian delegation did not gain great success in Singapore. Although the parties did sign an agreement to set up one joint company, official Minsk wanted to get more in the form of investments. The Asian tiger has enough economic weight to become a noticeable player in Belarus. However, it does not hurry to do so, although the regime offers a piece of Belarusian state property that the Russians want so much – a minority stock of Belaruskali, one of the world's largest producers of potash.

The visit to the South-East Asia took place after the failed trip to St. Petersburg. Alexander Lukashenka was hoping to get from Vladimir Putin a $ 2 billion loan. The Russian Minister of Finance  Anton Siluanov replied simply and ingeniously: “If Belarus carries out privatisation for $ 2.5 billion, there will be no need for a loan”. 

The Russian refusal inspired the Belarusian state leader. Ruling politicians realise the importance of development of relations with countries outside of Europe. Due to such contacts, the Belarusian authorities gain international legitimacy and find partners who do not demand further integration or respect of human rights. 

Indonesian Success

On 18 March, Lukashenka arrived to Indonesia for the first time in the history of relations with this country. On the one hand, the relations between the countries do not develop as quickly as the Belarusian authorities would like. In 2012, the goods turnover between Belarus and Indonesia amounted only to $132,2 million. Alongside with that, the Belarusian export still remains undiversified. Belarus shipped almost exclusively potassium fertilisers and tires to Indonesia.

On the other hand, Belarusian authorities can expect rapid start in the mutual trade. Belarus signed contracts for $400 million for the three days of the visit. According to Belta news agency apart from the traditional potassium fertilisers, Indonesia will get about 500 tipper trucks and 600 tractors manufactured in Belarus in the nearest years. Belarus also plans to earn about $150 million on shipment of milk products.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced that a group of businessmen would visit Minsk in the nearest future, and he would come to Belarus personally for further negotiations afterwards. Lukashenka mentioned cooperation in the military sphere separately. According to the new information provided by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Belarus occupies place # 20 among the biggest exporters of weapons in 2008-2012.

The Belarusian authorities had been preparing this visit for several years. According to Lukashenka, the goods turnover is likely to grow by two-three times in the next several years. If official Minsk manages to open several joint-stock companies with Indonesia, it will become a great break-through for the Belarusian economy. In political sense, these contacts have little importance as the countries are located too far away from each other, and their spheres of interest at the international arena stay too different.

Singaporean Hopes

Success in the relations with Indonesia seems less important than the prospect of cooperation with Singapore.

The current state of the economic relations strives to the minimum: the goods turnover in 2012 made $26,5 mln, Singapore invested in Belarus only $730,000 for a year. The Belarusian authorities realise that Belarusian products cannot be competitive in Singapore. The regime hopes to set up joint companies (for example, in the IT sphere) or direct investments into the Belarusian economy.  

During the Belarusian-Singaporean business forum the parties agreed to set up a joint company for production auto parts and fittings. As for the direct investments, Singapore has taken no decision so far. The speaker of the Singaporean Parliament will visit Belarus in the near future to see the Belarusian enterprises.

Also, Lukashenka met with President of the “Riyada Group” holding company, a member of the Bahrain royal family, one of the most influential women of the Arabian world Shaikha Dheya bint Ebrahim Al Khalifa. The parties agreed to set up a joint company in Amman and about shipment of the Belarusian goods to the Arabian countries.

Multiple-Vector of the Regime as a Guarantee for Belarus’ Independence

The regime deeply appreciates the relations with countries located far away from Belarus, countries which have quite different, but not contradictory political interests with Belarus.  The Belarusian authorities want contacts with South America, Asia or Middle East to become a security cushion in case of deterioration of relations with Russia and the European Union.

When Lukashenka headed for the South-East Asia, the Belarusians started joking that the state leader “disclosed his multiple-vector nature”. The Belarusian authorities often use the concept of “multiple-vector nature” to underline importance of development of relations with all the countries of the world. Translated from the official Minsk’s language, it means creating a counterbalance to Russia.  

Although in reality only the West can replace Russia for Belarus, the Belarusian authorities continue to look for new partners. The contacts with Indonesia or Singapore look a drop in a sea in comparison with the agreements with Russia or the European Union. However these relations create appearance of the regime’s independence and stabilise its positions in the negotiations with Moscow or Brussels.

Ryhor Astapenia
Ryhor Astapenia
Ryhor Astapenia is the founder of the Centre for New Ideas and an associate analyst at the Ostrogorski Centre.
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