China sent the Y-20 long-range heavy airlift to NATO border

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The Chinese People’s Liberation Army ground units have commenced an 11-day joint military exercise with Belarusian forces near the Belarusian-Polish border, beginning on July 8. The primary goal? To enhance coordination between the two units. 

Photo credit: AP

In Brest, near NATO’s eastern frontier, these exercises come at a time of heightened tensions, especially with Warsaw ramping up its forces. Interestingly, Chinese involvement is relatively modest, with equipment ferried on just one Y-20 heavy airlifter, which touched down at the Baranovichi Air Base, approximately 160 kilometers southwest of Minsk. 

This deployment marks a notable escalation in Chinese-NATO tensions. As Western Bloc states bolster their military presence in East Asia, they are simultaneously increasing pressure on Belarus and Russia. Historically, Chinese military deployments to Europe have been minimal. For instance, in April 2022, six Y-20s swiftly delivered HQ-22 surface-to-air missile systems to Serbia during rising regional unrest. 

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

These joint exercises follow closely on the heels of Minsk’s admission to the Chinese-led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. This group also includes Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran, and several Central Asian nations. 

China and Belarus share a longstanding strategic relationship. This bond was further reinforced with the arrival of Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu in Belarus on August 16 for a three-day official visit aimed at enhancing military cooperation. 

The most iconic example of these ties has been the Polonez rocket artillery system. Developed with significant Chinese support, it’s currently considered the most advanced of its kind in Europe. Chinese trade, technology, and investment have been crucial in helping Minsk withstand escalating Western economic pressures since 2020. 

Photo credit: MWM

There’s speculation that the exercises in Belarus could be the first of many involving Chinese forces. Belarus, already facing growing Western military pressure, is also seeing an increasing Russian military presence on its soil. 

The Belarusian Defense Ministry didn’t offer detailed information about the exercises. They stated: “Amid counterterrorism operations, this joint exercise will feature integrated training and mixed-unit drills.” 

The start of these exercises notably coincided with unprecedented criticism from the Chinese Foreign Ministry against NATO. The ministry accused the Western alliance of bringing “extremely high-security risks to the world and the region” and condemned “NATO’s use of China as a pretext to move eastward into the Asia-Pacific and stir up regional tensions.”

Photo credit: Northrop Grumman

As reported by BulgarianMilitary.com earlier, on June 6, an RQ-4B Global Hawk took off from Greece and set its course for Ukraine. The drone navigated through the airspace of NATO partner nations – Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia – before entering Poland’s airspace from the south. In doing so, it carefully avoided flying over Ukraine. It then continued its journey through Poland from south to north. 

Militarist noted in his initial post, “Quite unusual – the U.S. RQ-4B Global Hawk UAV is heading towards a position near the Belarusian border, seemingly for further reconnaissance of key targets for the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ strike group in the region.” 

The RQ-4B may have undertaken this reconnaissance mission to closely observe Russian forces in the Kaliningrad region, as well as the fleet stationed there. However, there’s also speculation that the mission is linked to China. On June 6, a contingent of Chinese military personnel arrived in Belarus to engage in joint “anti-terrorist training,” as announced by the Belarusian Defense Ministry. 

Photo credit: USAF

This development comes just days after Belarus, a primary ally of Moscow, joined the China-Russia-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which addresses Eurasian political, economic, security, and defense issues. The training exercise aims to “share experiences, coordinate Belarusian and Chinese units, and establish a foundation for advancing Belarusian-Chinese cooperation in joint troop training,” according to the ministry. 

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