China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, met with President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus on Wednesday, hosting one of the Kremlin’s closest allies in Beijing as the United States fears growing Chinese support for Russia and its war in Ukraine.
After a welcoming ceremony at the Great Hall of the People, the two leaders discussed enhancing business ties and sharing technologies, according to the Belarusian state news media. Although there was no explicit mention of the war, according to the report, the United States says the visit by the Belarusian leader is a sign of China’s strengthening ties with Moscow.
Russia used Belarus as a staging ground for its invasion of Ukraine a year ago, and the meeting between Mr. Xi and Mr. Lukashenko was being watched closely by Western and Ukrainian officials for signs of cooperation that could translate for more battlefield support for Moscow. The Biden administration has accused Beijing of considering supplying the Russian military with lethal weapons, an accusation that China has denied.
Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based research institute, said this week that Mr. Lukashenko could help facilitate the evasion of Western sanctions against Moscow, and raised the possibility that China could send weapons and ammunition to Russia through Belarus.
For his part, Mr. Lukashenko expressed support for China’s global security and development initiatives, referring to Chinese policies that Beijing has promoted to counter Western-led responses to conflict and poverty.
“Today’s meeting is taking place at a very difficult time, requiring new nonstandard approaches and responsible political decisions,” the Belarusian leader said. There was no immediate statement on the meeting from the Chinese government.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Lukashenko held talks with China’s premier, Li Keqiang, in a meeting in which he lauded the trade growth between Belarus and China and called for relations between the two countries to intensify, the Belarusian state news media reported.
Friction has been increasing between Washington and Beijing. On Tuesday, a new House select committee on China held its first hearing, framing competition with Beijing as an “existential struggle.”
The accusations that China is considering supplying arms to Russia and a recent dispute over a spy balloon have raised tensions between the two superpowers, which are at odds over issues including TikTok, the origins of the coronavirus pandemic and the future of Ukraine.
Mr. Lukashenko, who sought Moscow’s help quelling antigovernment protests in Belarus in 2020, allowed President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to use his country’s territory to stage his invasion of Ukraine, a decision that resulted in the United States’ imposing sanctions against Belarus.
China issued a proposal last week that outlined broad principles to end the fighting in Ukraine. The position paper was criticized by Western leaders for not offering detailed ideas and for aligning too closely with Russian interests.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine was careful not to criticize the proposal and instead seized on its release to call for his own meeting with Mr. Xi to discuss ways to end the war. China has yet to respond.
Western analysts said the meeting with Mr. Lukashenko underscored Mr. Xi’s desire to lead a collection of nondemocratic states in opposition to the West. Closer ties with Belarus could also provide China with a better view of conditions on the ground in Ukraine, which shares a 674-mile border with Belarus.
“Belarus could be a good channel to see if China can mediate more” between Russia and Ukraine, said Wang Huiyao, the president of the Center for China and Globalization in Beijing, a research group.
Mr. Lukashenko is likely to court more Chinese investment to help offset the sanctions imposed on Belarus. The two countries could also expand military cooperation to reduce Minsk’s reliance on Russia.
“We have always been reliable friends of the Chinese people in the past decades and will be in the future,” Mr. Lukashenko said in a recent interview with the Chinese state news media. “Our people, especially under Western sanctions, know well who is the enemy and who is our friend,” he added.
Keith Bradsher and Marc Santora contributed reporting. Olivia Wang contributed research.