China Radar: South Caucasus is a monthly publication by Rondeli Foundation (GFSIS) dedicated to China’s activities and influence in the three nations of South Caucasus.
With the global rise of great power tensions and competition related to China’s role in the world, Rondeli Foundation began to take a closer look at China’s role in our own region. Since July 2020, we have been publishing China’s Activities in the South Caucasus digest that exhaustively covers events and developments in this regard. China Radar builds on China’s Activities digest to provide experts, researchers, civil servants and other observers of China’s foreign strategy with a comprehensive summary of China’s political, diplomatic, economic, informational, soft power and other activities towards Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia as well as these nations’ stances and actions concerning China.
Sources of information provided in China Radar can be found in the issues of China’s Activities digest covering the relevant months unless indicated otherwise. All issues of both China Radar and China’s Activities digest can be found on Rondeli Foundation’s China Watch page.
China’s Presence, Activities and Influence in the South Caucasus
Following a 21 April meeting with the head of the Republican Party of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan, on 12 May 2021, Chinese Ambassador to Armenia Fan Yong also met with another bitter opponent of Nikol Pashinyan’s government, the head of the Prosperous Armenia party and the president of the Armenian Olympic Committee Gagik Tsarukyan. The Ambassador thanked Tsarukyan for his “positive contribution” to the promotion of China-Armenia friendship. The Chinese Embassy in Armenia reported Tsarukyan’s willingness in his capacity as the Prosperous Armenia party leader to strengthen “party-to-party” contacts with China.
Ambassador Fan Yong’s meetings with Sargsyan and Tsarukyan occurred in the period of intense political tensions caused by the opposition’s attempts to remove Nikol Pashinyan’s government from power, and shortly before the early general election of 20 June 2021.
Chinese leadership and diplomats consistently promoted the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the South Caucasus during May 2021.
General Secretary of the CCP Xi Jinping wrote in his letter to President Ilham Aliyev for the Republic Day of Azerbaijan that cooperation between the two countries as a part of the BRI project continued to deepen. Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs of China Wu Jianghao also promoted development of the BRI cooperation between China and Azerbaijan during the Azerbaijani Embassy’s reception in Beijing. Chinese Ambassador to Azerbaijan Guo Min did the same in a 6 May interview adding that the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway was an integral part of the BRI cooperation. Interestingly, Guo Min also endorsed the envisioned Zangezur corridor through southern Armenia which became a possibility as a consequence of the 9 November 2020 ceasefire statement that concluded the Second Nagorno-Karabakh War. Ambassador Guo Min said that “building the new corridor for transportation to Europe via Armenia, Nakhchivan and Turkey is a major step taken in alignment with the joint statement on the ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh.”
Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Le Yucheng spoke of “joint construction” of the BRI during political consultations with his Armenian colleague Avet Adonts on 26 May 2021.
Li Yan, Chinese Ambassador to Georgia, spoke of jointly developing the BRI during her meeting with the Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili on 17 May 2021. In a 29 May interview, Li Yan called the China-Georgia Free Trade Agreement “a great milestone” in the two countries’ cooperation under the BRI framework.
Ambassador Li Yan employed the concept of the “community with shared future for mankind” and its thematic variation, “community of common health,” in an article about the cooperation on vaccines she published in a Georgian outlet GT Media on 25 May. She also deployed this concept in an interview with Forbes Georgia published on 29 May.
Following calls for international boycott of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, Chinese ambassadors in the South Caucasus mobilized to counter any potential traction of such a campaign in the region. Chinese Ambassador in Azerbaijan published an article promoting Azerbaijani athletes’ participation in Beijing 2022 on 13 May. Ambassador in Armenia received a commitment about the Armenian participation in the games from Gagik Tsarukyan who is not only the leader of the Prosperous Armenia party but also the president of the Armenian Olympic Committee. Previously, on 28 April, Chinese Ambassador to Georgia published an article entitled “See you at the Beijing Winter Olympics!” on the website of a Georgian media outlet, Interpressnews.
Economic Involvement and Connections
Georgia and Armenia reported increase of exports to China in the first months of 2021. In January-March 2021, Armenian exports to China increased by 95.1 percent against the same period of 2020. Georgian exports to China in January-April 2021 increased by of 52.9 percent compared to the same period of the previous year.
China Road and Bridge Corporation reported on 17 May 2021 signing an agreement with the Roads Department of Georgia to restore nine different road sections, 63 kilometers in total, in Guria region. China Road and Bridge Corporation was awarded the contract after winning an international tender, continuing a string of victories in tenders by Chinese companies seeking to engage in infrastructure construction and restoration projects in Georgia. The project, with the total cost of GEL 58.5 million, is to be finished in 18 months. It is financed by the World Bank.
Azerbaijan Railways Chairman Javid Gurbanov stated on 26 May that in the first four months of 2021, container transit traffic through Azerbaijan grew by 49 percent, mainly due to Chinese trade operations “which increased by 2.8 times compared to the same period of last year.”
South Caucasus Actors Expressing Support for China
The Belt and Road Georgian Business House (located in Guangzhou, Guangdong province) and its head Bekar Mikaberidze hosted the Minister of Commerce of China Wang Wentao on 7 May 2021. The minister “expressed great support” for the Belt and Road Georgian Business House and its further development.
China’s Special Envoy in Eurasia Region Li Hui attended an event in Beijing dedicated to medieval poet Nizami Ganjavi, organized on 25 May by the embassy of Azerbaijan, the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
On 16 May, the Confucius Institute at the Azerbaijan University of Languages held an online seminar entitled “Azerbaijani and Chinese Youth” to celebrate the Chinese holiday Youth Day (celebrated on 4 May).
On 2 May 2021, China donated 100,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine to Armenia.
Stances and Activities by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia Benefiting China’s Foreign Policy
Support for the Belt and Road Initiative
President Ilham Aliyev stated on 20 May 2021 that Azerbaijan assigned great importance to the Belt and Road Initiative. Aliyev said his country had “invested in this project financially and politically,” providing for the BRI “its infrastructure, the Caspian seaport, the railroad