China’s defence cooperation with Russia and Belarus and the 11th Moscow Conference on International Security

China Defence Minister
The Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu (Credits:, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Geopolitical Report ISSN 2785-2598 Volume 33 Issue 4
Authors: Guido Keller

Chinese Minister of Defence Li Shangfu will visit Russia and Belarus from August 14 to 19 to participate in the 11th Moscow Conference on International Security, where he will address various global and regional security issues. This visit reflects the cooperation between China, Russia, and Belarus in the realm of defence and highlights the significance of multilateral discussions in ensuring global stability and security.

Background Information

On August 14th, 2023, Chinese Minister of Defence Li Shangfu started his official visit to Russia and Belarus after the invitation of the Russian Minister of Defence, Sergei Shoigu, and the Belarusian Minister of Defence, Viktor Khrenin.

During his stay, Li Shangfu is scheduled to deliver a speech at the 11th Moscow Conference on International Security. According to Chinese and Russian sources, the Chinese Defence Minister’s speech will be a significant platform for presenting Beijing’s perspective on global stability, regional security, and the evolving dynamics of a multipolar world. Additionally, Li Shangfu will engage in discussions with military leaders from Russia and other participating states to enhance mutual understanding and cooperation, especially in addressing complex security challenges.

In Belarus, Li Shangfu will hold talks with top military and government officials as a sign of Beijing’s commitment to bolstering ties with Minks and having substantive dialogues concerning defence topics. His trip to Belarus will comprise tours of Belarusian military bases, highlighting China’s interest in exploring possible avenues of partnership with this Eastern European state.

The 11th Moscow Conference on International Security has a comprehensive agenda, focusing on global stability in the emerging multipolar world. This gathering provides a forum for discussions on the interactions among defence contractors of various countries. Additionally, it addresses the military aspects of regional security in Europe, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa. The conference fosters dialogue among independent experts, creating a platform for a “Unified World – Shared Security” discourse, allowing participants to delve into pressing issues on the agenda.

The collaboration between Beijing, Moscow, and Minsk in defence matters has acquired prominence in recent years. The Moscow Conference on International Security has evolved into a platform for exchanging views on a broad spectrum of security issues. Its inclusion of global stability, multilateral defence cooperation, and regional security concerns highlights the conference’s significance in shaping international security policies.

Geopolitical Scenario

China’s robust collaboration with Russia and Belarus in the defence sector, underscored by the presence Li Shangfu at the Moscow conference, delivers a compelling message to Western nations. In the current geopolitical landscape, marked by the ongoing Ukraine conflict, which pits Western powers against the Russian Federation, and the intensifying United States-China rivalry over dominance in the Asia-Pacific region, Beijing’s pursuit of closer ties with Moscow and Minsk raises apprehensions among Western countries. The coordinated efforts and enhanced defence cooperation between these Eastern nations highlight the evolving dynamics of global power shifts and challenge the existing Western-dominated order.

While China has positioned itself as a potential mediator to facilitate a peaceful resolution to the Ukraine conflict, recent developments in the world arena have led to a multi-polarisation of power. This transformation has witnessed the consolidation of partnerships among countries such as Russia, China, and Iran, among others, a configuration that the United States and the European Union perceive as a potential strategic challenge.

On the one hand, the growing collaboration among these non-Western powers, clear through diplomatic initiatives and defence engagements, underscores the diversification of global influence and the emergence of alternative power centres, which adds complexity to the global security architecture and prompts Western policymakers to recalibrate their strategies.

On the other hand, while China and Russia currently share strategic interests in key regions within the Eurasian chessboard, such as Central Asia, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, it is important to recognise that the ongoing Ukraine conflict has played a pivotal role in driving Moscow closer to Beijing. In the short term, this convergence of interests may lead to a strengthening of their collaborative efforts, particularly in fields such as defence, oil & gas, and trade, as a collective response to Western pressure and sanctions. However, a longer-term perspective suggests potential clashes between Moscow and Beijing, especially if their respective interests and strategies diverge in regions such as Central Asia. The multi-faceted nature of their geopolitical pursuits and the evolving dynamics of global power may create friction between the two nations as they navigate their own paths in this complex geopolitical landscape.

Looking specifically at the relationship between Beijing and Minsk, the People’s Republic of China has consistently showed keen interest in the Belarusian market, with the ultimate aim of leveraging this territory to further advance its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. However, the political stance of Minsk, which supports Moscow in the Ukraine conflict and faces criticism from Brussels regarding Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko’s leadership, could present a challenge to China’s aspirations of using the Belarusian territory as a gateway to Europe. The collision between Minsk’s political alignment and Beijing’s economic goals in the region introduces an intriguing geopolitical dynamic, where strategic and economic imperatives may intersect with political considerations.


In summary, the visit of Chinese Minister of Defence Li Shangfu to Russia and Belarus, particularly his participation in the 11th Moscow Conference on International Security, signifies a pivotal moment in the evolving global power dynamics. This collaborative effort underscores the strategic cooperation between China, Russia, and Belarus in the defence sector and serves as a manifestation of their shared commitment to multilateral discussions on global stability and security.

However, this strengthening collaboration, driven by a need to counter Western pressures and sanctions, raises apprehensions among European countries and the United States, particularly amid the ongoing Ukraine conflict. The interplay between this immediate unity and the long-term potential for divergent strategies between Moscow and Beijing, especially in key regions like Central Asia, adds complexity to the geopolitical landscape, prompting a recalibration of diplomatic approaches and alliances.

Moreover, the collision of Beijing’s economic aspirations, as seen in its keen interest in the Belarusian market as part of the Belt and Road Initiative, with Minsk’s political alignment with Moscow, introduces intriguing geopolitical dynamics. The challenges arising from this intersection of strategic goals, economic ambitions, and political considerations underscore the multifaceted nature of international relations.

This evolving landscape, shaped by the emergence of alternative power centres such as Russia and China (and also the Islamic Republic of Iran), requires Washington and Brussels to rethink their alliances and diplomatic strategies. As the traditional Western-centric order faces increasing challenges, it becomes imperative for Western policymakers to engage with these emerging power dynamics in a nuanced and adaptive manner, ensuring a balanced response to the transforming geopolitical arena.

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