Belarus’ autocratic leader Alexander Lukashenko has turned to the so-called “ironclad friend” the People’s Republic of China for support as the West including the United States mounted pressure on Europe’s “last dictator”. A series of sanctions, in the past weeks, was imposed on the Belarusian regime by European Union [EU], Britain, US, and Canada over the migrant crisis on the border with Poland, which the West says, has been orchestrated by the Belarusian leader.

As Lukashenko’s Presidency suffocates under Europe’s and West’s criticism and trade embargoes over the rigged election last year, a subsequent crackdown on anti-government protesters, and now the spilling migrant situation on the border, Minsk has stepped up cooperation with China, pushing the Sino-Belarusian ties closer. Lukashenko, in the controversial elections rejected by the West, won by a landslide with 80.10% votes, defeating his closest rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya who garnered 10.12% votes. Protests broke out over the election outcomes, prompting the EU, the UK, and the US to slap sanctions on Minsk.

China turns Minsk’s second-largest trading partner

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi in a meeting with his Belarusian counterpart Vladimir Makei hailed the ‘ironclad friendship between both countries, as he noted, that China is now Minsk’s second-largest trading partner. In an effort to counter the alleged Western belligerence, the Belarusian leader has moved closer to China and Russia as ‘the only way’ to secure protection from the implications of the sanctions.

Recently, as China blocked trade with Lithuania over the establishment of the de facto representative office in the capital Vilnius for Taiwan, the Belarusian leader offered an alternative to Lithuanian products that were previously supplied to China. Belarusian Ambassador to China, Yuri Senko told the Global Times, the Chinese government’s mouthpiece that Minsk will support China including on the Taiwan question in the international domain, strengthening the regional cooperation in Eastern Europe as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Belarus has “always adhered and will adhere to the one-China principle, we consider the island of Taiwan to be an integral part of China,” the Belarus Ambassador to China stressed.

“On behalf of Belarus, I can assure that we will continue to fulfill our obligations to ensure the uninterrupted transit of Chinese goods, as before, and support our strategic partner – China – in the international arena on all other issues,” Belarus’ Senko affirmed, China’s Global Times reported.

“So long as we [Belarus] develop such relations with China, we cannot be isolated,” Lukashenko had earlier told Xinhua, China’s state affiliated news agency. He then rigorously began to expand the Sino-Belarusian trade from $180 million to $2 billion and appearing for the first time on Chinese Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation Ministry report.

The two nations have since cosied as ‘best friends in need,’ pushing forward their economic diplomacy stemming out of China’s interest in Eastern Europe and its expansionist agenda that propelled its need for search of new markets for the Belt and Road Initiative.

Whatever the reasons, Belarusian President Lukashenko has been vocal about acknowledgement of China’s growing support, stressing at a conference in Minsk, last month, that at a time of unprecedented external and foreign pressure on his country, he received wide-ranging support from its traditional allies, particularly—China.

“We have received the most tangible assistance and support during this difficult time from Russia, China and other countries,” the Belarusian leader asserted. Thus, once again we’ve been reassured that a friend in need is a friend indeed,” he said, according to BelTA news agency.