Just 40 Miles Off NATO Border, Chinese Military Flexes Muscles In Belarus; Allies Blast Beijing For Helping Russia

As tensions rise between the United States and China, the Chinese military is extending its reach beyond its borders by partnering with allied countries, causing concern among Western nations.

This trend was underscored by the recent commencement of the 11-day joint military training exercises between China and Belarus, held alarmingly close to Poland, a NATO and European Union member.

The drills are taking place at a training ground near Brest, on the Belarus-Poland border, just 40 miles from Belarus’s border with Ukraine. The drills, which run from July 8 to 19, include night landing operations and overcoming water obstacles, signaling a high level of military preparedness and coordination.

The proximity of these exercises to NATO territory has generated significant coverage in the Western media and among military experts. Many in the West see the presence of Chinese troops so close to a NATO border as a provocative gesture amidst already heightened geopolitical tensions.

Major General Vadim Denisenko of the Belarusian military emphasized the complexity of current global events, noting, “Having studied new forms and ways of solving tactical problems, here we will work out all these points in the exercises. At some stages, the units will be combined, there will be no separately Chinese or separately Belarusian, they will operate together.”

The partnership between China and Belarus reflects growing ties under Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, both strong allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. While the West views this military cooperation as a significant development, the relationship between China and Belarus is not new.

Vsevolod Shimov, adviser to the president of the Russian Association of Baltic Studies, highlighted the longstanding collaboration: “Minsk relies on powerful allies in the east, both Russia and China. At the summit in Astana, Belarus became a full member of the SCO. Now, it will be natural to intensify military cooperation with the PRC.”

On July 4, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) officially admitted Belarus as a member during the 24th Meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the SCO in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Shimov further noted, “Actually, such cooperation has existed before; for example, the Belarusian Multi-Barrel Rocket Launcher (MLRS) ‘Polonez’ (a Belarusian 300 mm rocket artillery system of a launcher unit) was developed with the help of Beijing.”

Meanwhile, NATO allies agree that China is a “decisive enabler” of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on July 10 at the alliance’s summit in Washington.

China was mentioned in the joint member states’ statement as a threat to NATO’s interests and security, which Stoltenberg called “the first time that all NATO members state this so clearly in an agreed document.”

China has positioned itself as neutral in the ongoing war but has deepened economic ties with Russia and become Moscow’s leading source of dual-use goods that feed the Russian defense industry.

NATO called on China to cease supplying Russia with “weapons components, equipment, and raw materials,” saying that Beijing “cannot enable the largest war in Europe in recent history without this negatively impacting its interests and reputation.”

China On The March

China’s military is extending its influence far beyond its borders, signaling its ambition to rival American global military might. This expansion is not confined to its immediate neighborhood but reaches distant regions, showcasing China’s growing capabilities and strategic ambitions.

A notable example of this expansion is the deployment of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Shandong Carrier Strike Group to the Philippine Sea.

The aircraft carrier Shandong is operating outside the South China Sea for the first time this year. The Shandong was last deployed to the Philippine Sea in October and November of the previous year, where it conducted flight operations with its fighter aircraft and helicopters.

Shandong has been actively engaged in training operations across the Pacific region. Last year, the carrier strike group was deployed three times to the western Pacific. The initial deployment occurred in April and lasted 19 days in the Philippine Sea.

This was followed by a five-day mission in September and a 12-day operation in October and November. These extended deployments highlighted China’s commitment to projecting its naval power far from its shores.

J-15s Onboard Shandong (Twitter)

In addition to these independent operations, China has been conducting joint training exercises with its strategic partner, Russia. Currently, a joint PLAN-Russian Navy patrol is operating in the Philippine Sea.

Russia has also dispatched two corvettes for an Indo-Pacific deployment, emphasizing the deepening military ties between Beijing and Moscow.

China is also bolstering its military relationships with Southeast Asian countries, where Beijing and Washington are vying for influence. Recently, Chinese troops arrived in Laos for a two-week exercise with the Lao military near Vientiane.

Approximately 300 Chinese troops and 900 Lao military personnel are participating in the Laos-China Friendship Shield-2024 exercise, which began on July 5. This training follows a similar exercise in Cambodia, where Chinese troops participated in the largest-ever bilateral military exercise with Cambodian forces in May.

Last November, China’s Guangdong province hosted a military exercise involving the armed forces of Cambodia, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. Since December, Chinese warships have been spotted at a new Chinese-built pier at Cambodia’s Ream Naval Base.

Despite repeated denials from Cambodia about granting China exclusive military access to the base, these developments have raised questions about Beijing’s strategic intentions.

In May 2024, a report highlighted the increase in military exercises conducted by the United States and China across Asia amid rising regional tensions.

The London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies “Scripted Order” survey revealed that between 2003 and 2022, the US conducted 1,113 exercises involving Asian countries, compared to 130 by China.

While Beijing’s exercises still lag in scale and complexity, the frequency and scope of its drills are increasing.

China’s military reach extends beyond Asia to the Middle East, where sea routes are crucial for China’s trade and fuel imports. The Chinese and Saudi Arabian navies have previously conducted escort and anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden and waters off Somalia. Last year, the Air Force of China and the United Arab Emirates conducted joint training exercises in China.

In the Gulf of Oman earlier this year, the navies of China, Iran, and Russia held their fifth joint exercise in recent years. This trilateral cooperation underscores China’s growing military engagement in the Middle East.

China has also intensified its military diplomacy with African nations. In April 2024, China’s 45th naval fleet, including the guided-missile destroyer Urumqi, missile frigate Linyi, and comprehensive replenishment vessel Dongpinghu, visited Madagascar after stops in Tanzania and Mozambique.

Throughout 2023, the PLAN made port calls in Nigeria, Gabon, Ghana, Congo-Brazzaville, Angola, and South Africa.

These visits are part of Beijing’s strategy to solidify security relationships with African governments and port cities, ensuring swift access when needed. China’s increasing military presence indicates its desire to establish itself as a significant global military force.