MINSK, Oct. 8 (Xinhua) -- China is a best friend of Belarus while Belarus is a highly reliable partner to China, Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko said Friday.
Belarus and China have all along maintained traditional friendly relations and their relationship has been upgraded to a strategic level, Lukashenko said in an interview with Xinhua and other mainstream media of China, on the eve of his visit to China.
Expressing satisfaction over the state of bilateral ties between the two countries, the president highly appreciated China's strong support to his country during the global financial crisis.
"We will always remember that our Chinese friends stretched out a helping hand to us in times of crisis," he said.
In the last 20 years or so, Lukashenko has paid many visits to China, which helped him know China very well.
Belarus has set up a number of free economic zones, modeled after those in China, said Lukashenko, adding that China's experience in economic development has begun to bear fruit on Belarussian soil.
Belarus is ready to expand exchanges and cooperation with China in all fields, from aerospace and military technology to manufacturing of household appliances, he said.
He said industry is the foundation and lifeline of Belarus' economy, accounting for 80 percent of the country's gross domestic product.
Belarus is now engaged in large-scale industrial modernizationon and is in dire need of funding. Lukashenko hoped China could increase investment in Belarus.
"China's investment has never had any political strings attached, therefore, we are more than willing to see China speed up its investment in Belarus on a larger scale," he said.
Although the yuan is not freely convertible yet, Belarus still holds the Chinese currency in its foreign exchange reserves, Lukashenko said.
"While many other countries in the world are mired in economic crisis, the Chinese economy enjoys stable and free development... The Chinese economy's robust growth gives us full confidence in the future of the yuan currency," Lukashenko said.
On bilateral cultural exchanges, Lukashenko said several hundred Belarussian students are now studying in China, while the number of Chinese students studying at Belarussian universities now exceeds 2,000 and is growing.
Lukashenko said he has a deep love for ancient Chinese culture and the temple structures in particular.
He said he was happy that at his suggestion, Chinese authorities have agreed to help build a "China Town" in Minsk, the capital city of Belarus.
In five years' time, a "China Town" would rise from the ground that features distinctive Chinese culture, cuisines and traditional customs, he said.
Lukashenko said his country follows an independent, omni-dimensional foreign policy and is committed to developing close and friendly ties with neighboring countries, especially Russia, Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic nations.
Although some problems cropped up in Belarus-Russia relations recently, he said he was sure the two sides would tide over the difficulties and find a way out.
The president said Belarus would also make efforts to strengthen its ties with other CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries and actively push forward the integration process in the former Soviet region.
Lukashenko, who departs for China on Saturday, will visit the Shanghai Expo during his tour. He is expected to hold talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao on further deepening bilateral relations and other issues.
"I am very much look forward to visiting the Shanghai Expo. I couldn't wait to see for myself the miracles that our Chinese friends have created in Shanghai, even for a just few minutes."
A president of Belarus since 1994, Lukashenko said the post was a great honor for him. Although fulfilling the presidential duties was a tough job, he enjoyed it as the happiest period of his life, he said.
What he is doing is to help his people get over the difficulties and lead a happy life, the president said.
Just two months away from the Dec. 19 presidential elections, Lukashenko said he was confident that he would win re-election for a fourth term.