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A joint venture established by Chinese automaker Geely in Belarus, BELGEE has been a star of China-Belarus economic cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative. Located in the city of Barysaw, Minsk in the Republic of Belarus, the company is the only passenger vehicle producer in the country and the first automobile joint venture between China and Belarus.
As a member of the former Soviet Union, Belarus was a production center for heavy duty trucks in the industrial division system, which left a legacy of narrow production capabilities ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union. It had a hard time producing a single sedan for a long time, despite leading the world in production capacity of state-of-the-art industrial trucks.
Located in a relatively isolated area to the west of the plateau of Eastern Europe, Belarus covers a land area of 207,595 square kilometers with a population of 9.75 million. In 2016, its per capita GDP measured merely US$5,000. The country was hindered by a lack of capital, talent, technology, and market access. Several major brands including Ford and Volkswagen attempted to establish joint ventures there, which never came to fruition. “We need a country to give us a hand in producing competitive economy cars,” Belarusian President Alexander Lukaschenko once sighed publicly.
In recent years, China’s automobile industry has rolled ahead by leaps and bounds, and its products have been exported around the world, with Belarus as a major distribution point in Central and Eastern Europe.
In 2013, Li Shufu, president of China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, signed an agreement in Beijing with Dzmitry Katerynich, minister of industry of Belarus, to co-establish a large automobile assembly project, marking the start of the implementation phase for BELGEE.
As agreed, Geely, BELAZ, the world’s second largest mining machinery company, and SOYUZ, an auto components joint venture in Belarus, joined hands to establish the Geely (Belarus) Automobile Co., Ltd., which would specialize in producing Geely cars in Belarus, with a planned annual capacity of 120,000.
Since its inception, the project has drawn great attention from state leaders on both sides. On May 8, 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping published an editorial in Sovetskaya Belorussia during his state visit to Belarus, in which he mentioned that the Geely cars rolling down from the assembly line of the factory would help Belarus realize its “sedan dream.” On April 7, 2016, President Alexander Lukaschenko issued an executive order requiring all governmental agencies to purchase BELGEE vehicles rather than imports after seeing Geely cars on display at an automobile industry show.
The company has made breakthroughs thanks to the constant implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative. This July, formal operation of a new factory district, spanning over 90 hectares in area, will commence, with investment exceeding US$300 million.
“Thank you, China, for jumpstarting our dreams of cars!” Volodymyr Pavlov Veitch, assistant general manager of BELGEE, exclaimed, adding that he was proud that such a hi-tech automobile plant was built in his hometown. He felt fortunate for the opportunity to contribute to the development of his country.
“China has been truly helping us with our national industrial progress,” declared Vladimir Semashko, deputy prime minister of Belarus.