Chinese state media came to the defense of Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko after he ordered the grounding of a commercial flight to imprison a journalist critical of his regime.
A Monday editorial from Global Times, a Chinese newspaper known for its anti-American views, said it remains unclear why Lukashenko forced the flight to land on Sunday. As such, the paper's editors urged caution before coming to a conclusion about the flight's grounding and affirmed that Belarus should have "the right to defend itself."
"Some Western leaders and media quickly classified the incident as a ‘hijack' and ‘state terrorism,' making it extremely sensational," the editorial says. "We believe that the international community should give Belarus the right to defend itself. Western public opinion has a very strong ability to set the agenda and often classifies an incident at the beginning of its occurrence without an authoritative investigation. But EU and US official institutions should avoid such pattern [sic]."
The Ryanair flight appears to have been ordered down under duress, with one Ukrainian military pilot telling the Washington Free Beacon that the pilot acted as if he had a "gun to his head." Upon the plane’s landing, Belarusian authorities immediately detained Roman Protasevich, a journalist known for his criticisms of the Lukashenko regime. A video released later showed Protasevich defending the actions of Belarusian authorities and affirming his healthy condition, but supporters and friends said he appeared to make such assertions under duress. The Lukashenko regime, however, said it commanded the plane to land due to a bomb threat from Hamas, a claim which Hamas denies.
Belarusian dissidents and U.S. lawmakers denounced the move to ground the flight. Former Belarus ambassador and culture minister Pavel Latushko accused Lukashenko of "piracy" and "international terror." And Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) called on the Biden administration to act swiftly by issuing sanctions on the regime and its major backer, the Russian government.
"Belarus’s aerial piracy and possible Russian involvement demand a swift and strong response from NATO and the EU," Cotton said. "That response should start with ending the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, Russia’s attempt to gain further coercive leverage over Europe."
The Biden administration responded with a statement condemning the actions of Belarus and calling for an investigation. Earlier in May, the administration waived sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, allowing President Vladimir Putin to complete a project that will increase Russia's influence in Europe.
Since a coerced election in August 2020, Lukashenko's presidency has been met with widespread protests. The regime has detained thousands for anti-government activity and received the backing of Russia in its crackdown on democracy activists.