President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus arrived in Beijing on Tuesday for a three-day visit in which China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, is expected to meet with him, lending support to one of Russia’s staunchest allies amid growing concerns in the United States and Europe about China’s position on the war in Ukraine.
Mr. Lukashenko, who has led Belarus since 1994, allowed Russia to use his country as a staging ground to invade Ukraine more than a year ago, which resulted in Western sanctions against Minsk. A 68-year-old authoritarian, Mr. Lukashenko has been wholly reliant on President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia since the Kremlin helped him crush antigovernment protests in Belarus in 2020.
The United States said it viewed the visit by the leader of one of Moscow’s client states as another sign of China’s growing ties with the Kremlin and its support for Russia’s side in the conflict in Ukraine, which has grown into another major flash point between the world’s two superpowers.
“The fact that the P.R.C. is now engaging with Lukashenko, who has, in effect, ceded his own sovereignty to Russia, is just another element of the P.R.C.’s deepening engagement with Russia, with all of those who are engaged with and supporting Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine,” Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, said on Monday, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
The three-day visit comes a little more than a week after the United States accused Beijing of devising plans to help Russia bolster its diminishing stocks of weapons and ammunition. President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, warned China on Sunday that it would face “real costs” if it went through with the plans. Beijing has repeatedly denied that it has considered supplying Russia with lethal weapons, and has accused Washington of escalating the war by providing Ukraine with military equipment.
China is trying to straddle what analysts describe as a nearly impossible position by trying both to present itself as a neutral observer in the war in Ukraine and to maintain close strategic ties with Russia. The tough balancing act has undermined Beijing’s efforts to court European powers that Chinese leaders view are necessary to revive the country’s weakened economy and counter increasing competition from the United States.
To buttress its claim of neutrality, China issued a proposal on Friday that outlined broad principles to end the fighting in Ukraine — but it was widely dismissed by Western leaders for lacking details and any signs that Beijing was willing to distance itself from Moscow. Russia also expressed lukewarm enthusiasm for the proposal, with a Kremlin spokesman saying it was too early to discuss the “nuances” of the plan, the Russian state news media reported on Tuesday.
While the China-Russia relationship has at times been fractured by war and mistrust, it has also endured through the countries’ communist roots and a desire to challenge Washington’s global supremacy. The two countries proclaimed a “no limits” partnership more than a year ago, and Mr. Xi is expected to make a state visit to Moscow in the spring.
Mr. Lukashenko’s visit comes on the heels of recent trips to Beijing by other authoritarian leaders such as President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran and Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia, highlighting China’s ambition to lead an alternative world order free of American interventionism.
Raffaello Pantucci, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, said tensions and disagreements often lay just beneath the surface of those relationships — including with Russia and Belarus — but they are rarely serious enough to overshadow their shared antipathy for the West.
“The overarching strategic decision they’ve all made is that the West is their enemy and that is their No. 1 priority. That binds them all together,” said Mr. Pantucci, author of “Sinostan: China’s Inadvertent Empire.”
The Chinese state news media has hailed Mr. Lukashenko’s visit as an example of China’s respect for powers of all sizes, and suggested that the two countries could coordinate strategies to promote peace in Ukraine. It has also criticized the West for framing the trip as a sign of China’s troubling role in Ukraine.
“Western media outlets still view this visit through a biased lens, describing Belarus as Russia’s ‘little ally’ and suggesting that China’s ‘expanding influence’ should be a cause for concern,” read a Global Times editorial headlined “Lukashenko’s China Trip Shows West’s Petty-Minded Sensitivity.”
Beijing and Minsk agreed to diplomatic ties shortly after Belarus declared independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991. Those ties were upgraded in 2022 to an “all-weather comprehensive strategic partnership,” a label that belies strains in the relationship in recent years over Belarus’s expectations of greater Chinese investment and trade.
Economic support will be at the top of Mr. Lukashenko’s agenda, analysts say, as Belarus finds itself increasingly isolated by sanctions. Closer ties with Beijing can also serve as a counterweight to Russia, which is responsible for half of Belarus’s foreign trade.
“Today, not a single issue in the world can be resolved without China,” Mr. Lukashenko said in an interview with Chinese state media.
Mr. Lukashenko’s visit will also be watched closely for signs of any new military or technological cooperation that could translate to the battlefield in Ukraine. The two countries already work together to produce the “Polonez” multiple rocket launcher, which experts say has been equipped with modified Chinese-made rockets.
In a joint statement released last year, Mr. Lukashenko and Mr. Xi pledged to “further expand practical cooperation in every sphere between the two militaries.”
Chris Buckley contributed reporting from Taipei. Olivia Wang contributed research from Hong Kong.