|ავტორი: David Batashvili, Research Fellow at the Rondeli Foundation|
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 August 2021, Chinese media renewed its disinformation attacks on Georgia’s Richard Lugar Center for Public Health Research.
On 5 August, Chinese state news agency China News Service published an article repeating standard Russian disinformation messages targeting the Lugar Center, and making reference to Moscow’s long-time asset in its subversion against Georgia, Igor Giorgadze, to make false claims about “fatal human experiments” taking place at the Lugar laboratory resulting in dozens of deaths. This article was replicated on numerous Chinese websites.
Chinese media outlet Sina published an article of its own on 13 August, filled with disinformation targeting Georgia and the Lugar Center, and decorated with the colorful title: “A coronavirus that could cause a pandemic was discovered in 2014? What is the US Army’s Georgian Biological Laboratory hiding?”
Chinese ambassadors to Azerbaijan and Georgia joined the general Chinese diplomatic effort to defend Beijing on the issue of the Covid-19 global pandemic origins and their investigation.
On 13 August, the Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Guo Min, said in an interview given to one of the actively pro-Chinese local figures, Seymur Mammadov, that China’s attitude towards the study of the novel coronavirus origins was based on openness and transparency as well as scientific and responsible approach.
On 19 August, the Ambassador to Georgia, Li Yan, gave an interview, also to a local pro-Chinese media outlet, saying that since the start of the pandemic China had been operating under the “community of common health for mankind” concept, and claiming “scientific approach” was key characteristic of her government’s attitude to the issue of the virus origins study. Li Yan accused “some countries” of political manipulations regarding this matter.
Military Attaché of the Chinese Embassy in Georgia, Su Zhu, published an article in a local outlet on 1 August, promoting the Chinese military’s international role in Beijing’s pursuit of community with shared future for mankind and “a more beautiful world”.
Economic Involvement and Connections
China remained Georgia’s third trade partner by total turnover, as well as the fourth trade partner of Azerbaijan, in the first seven months of 2021.
According to the 12 August statement made by Georgia’s Minister of Economy, Natia Turnava, transportation through the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway was growing rapidly, with particular role gained in this process by container cargoes moving from and to China which were “practically tripling”.
South Caucasus Actors Expressing Support for China
Benyamin Poghosyan, chairman of the Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies in Yerevan, Armenia, continued the series of pro-Chinese and anti-US messages he has been issuing lately in his 17 August interview to the Chinese media. Poghosyan accused the United States of politicizing the investigation of the novel coronavirus origins.
The director of the Eurasia-Azerbaijan (EurAsiaAz) international expert club and editor-in-chief of Azerbaijani news agency Baku Tribune, Seymur Mammadov, wrote and on 6 August published an article claiming that US sanctions (which the author characterizes as “ugly war”) have failed to negatively affect the Huawei corporation. In general, according to Mammadov, Americans tend to “set themselves such unrealistic goals as curbing China’s development” as a consequence of their ignorance of history.
Pro-Chinese actors in Georgia remained unable to part with the topic of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China, which was on 1 July 2021, as of this August. Four of them dedicated new articles to this memorable anniversary. All four were published in a Georgian newspaper, Kviris Palitra.
CEO of Georgia’s Partnership Fund, Georgian Dream party member and the Chairman of the Georgia-China Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Trade Cooperation, David Saganelidze, in an article published on 16 August, expressed delight with the fact that he had met Chinese leader Xi Jinping five times. Saganelidze also wrote about how he had come to realize the importance “of Mr. Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative for Georgia.”
President of Media Holding Georgian Times, Malkhaz Gulashvili, also had some delight to express in his article published on 30 August. Gulashvili wrote: “Two times I was lucky enough to have met China’s President Xi Jinping, one time I even shook his hand.” China’s leadership according to Gulashvili is “a group of honorable people” with whom he wants Georgia to develop relations, because “the 21st century is the era of China’s flourishing and development.”
Liana Okropiridze, the director of Joseph Stalin Museum, published her article on 9 August. Okropiridze described the museum’s long-standing relationship with the Chinese, especially with diplomats from China. Okropiridze disclosed that on the initiative of the Chinese Embassy in Georgia, Stalin Museum’s staff had visited China for training. She also wrote that, properly enough, in 2017 her museum had signed a cooperation memorandum with the Chinese Mao Zedong museum.
The Director of the Confucius Institute at the Free University of Tbilisi and the President of the Georgian Association of Sinologists, Marine Jibladze, published her piece on 23 August, praising the Free Trade Agreement between China and Georgia, as well as the role of her Confucius Institute in raising awareness about China in Georgia.
Stances and Activities by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia Benefiting China’s Foreign Policy
Support for the Belt and Road Initiative
On 24 August, Georgian Ambassador to China, Archil Kalandia, spoke online at the China Eurasia Commodity and Trade Online Expo 2021, held in Urumqi, Xinjiang. Kalandia said that “the BRI proposed by Chairman Xi Jinping is of great importance to Georgia,” and praised the progress of China-Georgia cooperation in recent years.
Azerbaijan had the status of a guest of honor at this same Online Expo in Xinjiang, along with Pakistan and Belarus. A diplomat from the Azerbaijani Embassy in China, Vugar Panahov, spoke of the great importance his country attached to all kinds of cooperation with China, particularly within the BRI framework.