China Begins “Assault USA” Military Drills In Belarus Near NATO State; Experts Decode Beijing’s New Move

Weeks after the NATO chief accused China of aiding Russia in the Ukraine conflict and fueling the biggest war in Europe, China may have moved the game up a notch by admitting Belarus to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and holding military drills with the country.

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Chinese military will kick off joint “anti-terrorist training” with Belarusian troops on July 8 in Brest, near the border with Poland, a NATO member.

Dubbed ‘Eagle Assault,’ the drills will run over 11 days and conclude on July 19. Interestingly, the eagle (bald eagle) has been the national bird of the US since 1782 and remains the national symbol. It is featured on the country’s Great Seal and various other official emblems.

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According to a previous announcement by the Chinese Defense Ministry, the drills are mainly aimed at anti-terrorism operations and will include missions like hostage rescue. Photos released by the Belarusian Defense Ministry showed Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops arriving in Belarus on a Y-20 strategic transport aircraft.

Chinese experts told the state-owned publication Global Times that the joint drills will help Eastern Europe maintain peace and stability in the face of non-traditional security threats. They said China and Belarus would benefit from closer security and defense cooperation within the SCO framework.

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The drills come after Belarus was officially admitted to the SCO, becoming the tenth country to join the framework dominated by China and Russia.

This marks the first time a Chinese transport plane has landed in Belarus, despite Chinese troops being invited to Russia for various drills earlier. This could be the first joint exercise where PLA troops will conduct maneuvers near NATO’s borders.

Expressing gratitude, Belarusian Foreign Minister Maxim Ryzhenkov said: “In Belarus, we immediately recognized the potential of the organization and consistently moved toward becoming a full member. The SCO is not just one of the international structures for our country. It is a strategic perspective. The SCO is a new security.”

However, the drills have not been very well received by either Poland or Ukraine. The latter has maintained that it is an extension of Belarusian and Russian psychological operations against Ukraine at the back of a bloody war being fought in Ukraine.

The National Security and Defense Council’s Center for Countering Disinformation in Ukraine issued a warning in May alleging that Belarus was launching an information-psychological campaign against Ukraine in an attempt to create a second front along the Ukrainian border.

Belarus, it warned, wanted to incite panic among Ukrainians and compel Kyiv to reallocate a portion of its forces to the Belarusian border.

Belarusian Leader Alexander Lukashenko, on his part, made no comments to suggest that the drills with China were connected to the war in Ukraine despite burgeoning tensions with Kyiv. Belarusian military officials have alleged that Ukraine was “trying to drag Belarus into the war” by amassing troops close to the border. Kyiv has refuted these claims.

Chinese troops arrived in Belarus for ‘Eagle Assault’ drills (via X)

Belarus is the closest and the only Russian ally in the region. Although it did not send troops to directly engage in fighting in Russia, it allowed Moscow’s troops to utilize its territory and airspace. Additionally, Russia has placed tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus and carried out tactical nuclear exercises to communicate a strong message to NATO.

Belarus becoming an anchor of the Russian Federation has already been troublesome for NATO, especially as the country borders Poland. China’s arrival on the scene is anticipated to make this much more complicated, given that Beijing has had a limited presence in the Eastern European region so far and is already deepening ties with Moscow.

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China’s strengthening military cooperation with Belarus and the upcoming drills are significant given that several NATO countries have been making inroads into the Indo-Pacific region, where China continues to expand and assert dominance.

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For example, this month, 30 Air Force aircraft from Spain, France, and Germany are set to participate in training exercises with Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force. This marks the inaugural joint deployment of these three NATO countries in the Indo-Pacific region. These drills are components of the two-month-long tri-national Pacific Skies deployment.

Incidentally, these drills in the Indo-Pacific will kick off the day when Chinese drills with Belarus are expected to conclude: July 19.

Some military watchers said on social media that China’s deepening cooperation with Belarus is meant to send a message to the NATO alliance and establish deterrence. Some experts have noted that Belarus has been utilized by Russia in the past and is now being leveraged by China to demonstrate power and send a message to NATO about its presence in the alliance’s eastern flank, considered the weakest point for NATO.

A contingent of PLA personnel arrived in Belarus on July 6 to take part in drills (via X)

When asked what the deployment means for China vis-a-vis NATO, Ben Lewis, a US-based defense analyst, told the EurAsian Times: “China’s efforts to develop relations with Belarus are a component of its greater goal of uniting states with negative relations with the West into an alternative global order. Challenging NATO, which is a core component of the existing order and has increasingly recognized China as a threat, is a bonus.”

Lewis further explained, “In terms of Chinese aid to Russia in Ukraine, I think Beijing has been very creative in how it has and is aiding Moscow in its invasion. Psyops (psychological operations convey selected information and indicators to audiences to influence their motives and objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of governments, organizations, groups, and large foreign powers) and information warfare have been a core component of that aid.”

EurAsian Times spoke to Don McLain Gill, a Philippines-based geopolitical analyst and a lecturer at the Department of International Studies, De La Salle University (DLSU), who said: “China views Belarus as another anchor in Eastern Europe. This is also in line with its goal of keeping countries against the West close by potential long-term geopolitical designs. While Belarus is limited by its material capacity, its location within the European continent is of vital interest to Beijing.”

Based on that theory, it could be significant that China has been fostering ties with Hungary, another NATO member country in East Europe. In fact, the Hungarian leader Viktor Orban kicked off a visit to Beijing on July 8.

Some observers believe that China’s outreach to Belarus may be just a Russia-China collusion to tether Ukraine. The US and NATO have accused China of supplying the Russian military against Ukraine, an accusation that China has dismissed.

It may be noted that China’s deployment in Belarus comes days after the NATO chief condemned China’s alleged military support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine for several months.

Last month, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, “Publicly, President Xi has tried to create the impression that he is taking a back seat in the conflict in Ukraine. To avoid sanctions and keep trade flowing. But the reality is that China is fueling the largest armed conflict in Europe since World War Two. And at the same time, it wants to maintain good relations with the West…Well, Beijing cannot have it both ways.”