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
In a joint statement issued by the Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian president Vladimir Putin on 4 February 2022, only 20 days prior to the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, China and Russia said they opposed “further enlargement of NATO.” They also stated that they opposed “color revolutions,” and would “increase cooperation” in their “common adjacent regions.”
With this statement the Chinese government officially placed itself in opposition to Georgia’s foreign policy goal of joining NATO. It also followed up previous messaging in the Chinese media directed against Georgia’s democratic revolution of 2003. Going even further than that, China stated it would increase cooperation with Georgia’s enemy Russia in the regions “adjacent” to the two powers which is evidently meant to include South Caucasus.
Propaganda and Disinformation
On 26 February, Chinese media outlets China News and CGTN issued propaganda messages directed against Georgia’s potential NATO membership. In both cases, Georgia was mentioned together with Ukraine in an effort by the Chinese media outlets to rationalize the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine that had started on 24 February.
Economic Involvement and Connections
On 15 February, the CEO of the Poti Free Industrial Zone (in Georgia) David Ebralidze spoke about a Chinese-Italian venture SDT Georgia LLC’s investment in a car parts production plant set to be built on a 5,000 square meter land plot in the Poti FIZ. According to Ebralidze, initially 60 people would work at the plant, which then would increase to 100 people. He said that the estimated investment volume constituted 10 million GEL, or 3.4 million USD.
Ebralidze also said that one of the major projects in the Poti FIZ in 2021 had involved textile production, with import of raw materials from China, and export of the final products to Poland and other EU countries. The total investment cost of the project according to Ebralidze amounted to 1.5 million GEL, or 517,000 USD.
On 22 and 23 February, Chinese manufacturing company, BYD, held talks with the economy ministers of Azerbaijan and Georgia, Mikayil Jabbarov and Levan Davitashvili respectively, discussing potential production of electric buses and cars in these two countries.
As reported on 1 February, two vessels were set to begin operation on the Baku-Turkmenbashi-Baku route across the Caspian Sea in 2022, as a part of the China-Europe transportation corridor. This particular part of the railway corridor reaches Turkmenistan through Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, and goes from Azerbaijan to Europe through Georgia and Turkey.
On 7 February, Tiangbei Logistics company reported that its first freight train departed from Wuwei, Gansu Province, China to Tbilisi, Georgia with arrival time estimated as 12-15 days.
South Caucasus Actors Expressing Support for China
On 4 February, the chairman of the Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies in Yerevan, Armenia, Benyamin Poghosyan, told Xinhua that Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics opening ceremony had provided “an excellent opportunity for the world to unite and make efforts towards the shared future.“
Stances and Activities by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia Benefiting China’s Foreign Policy
Support for China and its Policies
In a 2 February interview to Xinhua, Azerbaijan’s deputy prime minister Ali Ahmadov praised China’s “leading global role,” and called China an “excellent example” of social, political and economic transformation. Ahmadov also praised Xi Jinping’s ideas regarding “restructuring of international relations” such as the community of a common destiny for mankind. Ahmadov named Azerbaijan’s involvement in the Belt and Road Initiative as one of the key elements of its relations with China.