Protests in Minsk, Belarus, in 2020. Image by Viktar Palstsiuk available at Wikimedia Commons under CC license.

In recent months, as tensions have risen in Belarus in the run-up to the disputed re-election victory of Alexander Lukashenko, amid opposition arrests and detentions, China’s party-state media have consistently voiced support for the beleaguered Belarusian president.

Back in June, the official Xinhua News Agency said Lukashenko and Xi Jinping had discussed deepening economic cooperation in a late night phone call, and that Xi had praised his counterpart’s handling of COVID-19, expressing his belief “that under Lukashenko’s strong leadership, the Belarusian people will be able to defeat the epidemic as soon as possible.” On August 10, as widespread protests erupted in Belarus amid allegations that Lukashenko’s landslide re-election was a naked power grab, Xinhua noted simply that Xi Jinping had sent Lukashenko a congratulatory message and that the two sides were ready to “jointly push forward [the] China-Belarus comprehensive strategic partnership.”

News of Xi’s congratulatory message was carried on page one of the CCP’s official People’s Daily newspaper on August 11, and appeared on scores of news and government sites that day.

China’s official support for Lukashenko, and its characterization of protests against the leader as a source of unrest and chaos, becomes clear when you look at Xinhua’s reporting of events in Belarus yesterday, August 16, against international coverage.

As the BBC and other news outlets noted yesterday, a gathering in the Belarusian capital of Minsk to support Lukashenko, at which the leader addressed his supporters, was dwarfed by opposition protests, attended by an estimated 200,000 people who demanded Lukashenko’s resignation. In stark contrast to the anti-Lukashenko demonstrations, the gathering in support of the leader drew a “smaller crowd of several thousand,” according to the BBC. A Reuters reporter on the scene estimated the pro-Lukashenko crowed at “around 5,000 people,” while the Belarusian Interior Ministry, run by a Lukashenko appointee and ally, put the number at 65,000.

How have Chinese state media reported the story of the two rallies? Not surprisingly, readers are told only about one rally – that in support of Lukashenko. The headline today reads: “Large-scale rallies held in Belarusian capital to support the government.”

The following is a translation of the Xinhua story. The name of the quoted chairman of the “Belarusian National Social Union” is approximated, as reference to the pro-government organization could not be found outside the Chinese language.

Xinhua News Agency, Minsk, August 16 dispatch (reporters We Zhongjie and Li Jia) — Large-scale demonstrations were held on August 16th in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, supporting the government in preserving national tranquility and peace.

Around 70,000 people gathered in Independence Square that day in support of the government. Davydiko [sp?], chairman of the “Belarusian National Social Union” that organized the rally, said he supports a strong, prosperous, peaceful and independent Belarus.

Belarusian President Lukashenko said at the rally that the ballots in the [recent] election had not been rigged. The opposition should respect the opinions of the overwhelming majority, and must not encourage people to move toward violent confrontation, lest the country fall into chaos.

News of Lukashenko’s landslide victory in the August 10 election was reported without nuance or complicating facts in China’s party-state media. Here, for example, is a report from CCTV re-published by The Beijing News. It notes only Lukashenko’s victory, his sixth, and that he won 80.23% of the votes.

The Paper, a digital news site by the state-owned Shanghai United Media Group, ran a report on August 11, the day after the elections, whose sole source was the Belarusian Interior Ministry — the same government office claiming yesterday that the pro-Lukashenko rally had 65,000 supporters. The report said that authorities in Belarus had arrested more than 2,000 people in the midst of opposition events, and cited the Interior Ministry as saying it had taken “necessary measures to protect law and order and ensure public safety.” The report at The Paper repeated the election results, noting that Lukashenko had received 80.08% of the votes.

[Featured Image: Protests in Minsk on August 16, 2020, to oppose the August 10 election results. Image from Wikimedia Commons available under CC license.]

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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