|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
Fan Yong, China’s ambassador to Armenia, praised it for being “one of the first countries that supported and took part in the Belt and Road Initiative” in a 16 December interview. He also added that China and Armenia should use “historical opportunities to advance the quality of the Belt and Road Initiative.”
China’s ambassador to Azerbaijan, Guo Min, also promoted the BRI in a 17 December interview, saying that the Chinese side was “ready to make joint efforts with Azerbaijan to further high-quality implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative in order to achieve more practical results.” Guo Min also promoted the Global Development Initiative put forward by the CCP Chairman Xi Jinping, saying that Beijing hoped Azerbaijan would participate in the GDI, and, as a chair of the Non-Aligned Movement at the UN, would support China in promoting it internationally.
Li Yan, China’s ambassador to Georgia, gave an interview on 29 December, calling on the two countries to “strengthen the cooperation in various Belt and Road Initiative fields.” The ambassador said that China was intensively strengthening the BRI cooperation with Tbilisi, and that Georgia had a favorable geographic location as a country along the BRI. Li Yan added that the Georgian government was “paying close attention to using this advantage and developing the role of a corridor connecting the country to Eurasia.”
Propaganda and Disinformation
Chinese foreign ministry and media outlets made series of attacks on the democratic Rose Revolution that took place in Georgia in November 2003. The attacks were made in Chinese materials targeting democracy and US foreign policy. Chinese foreign ministry’s report targeting Georgia’s democratic velvet revolution was covered in Global Times on 5 December 2021. The Rose Revolution was also attacked in articles published by Global Times on 2, 9, 15 and 23 December, by CGNT on 6 December, and by Xinhua on 16 December.
Global Times targeted the South Caucasus countries’ relationship with the European Union. In a 22 December article, it claimed that “using access to the European market as bait,” the EU required the Eastern Partnership countries “to reform, modeling the democracy and market economy of Western Europe, in order to encircle Russia and thoroughly transform the post-Soviet space.”
Economic Involvement and Connections
Georgian diplomats reported on 4 December that the first regular freight train from China was heading to Tbilisi, Georgia.
Azerbaijan’s ADY Container railway operator reported on 30 December that it had furthered cooperation with China. Specifically, ADY Container said it had signed an agreement with the Xi’an Free Trade Port Construction and Operation Co. Ltd. regarding transportation of goods in containers along the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route. According to the deal, transportation by containers from China to Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey is to be carried out regularly in 2022. The agreement already began to function, with a container block train leaving Xi’an, China on 6 December and arriving in Baku, Azerbaijan on 29 December.
On 8 December, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Digital Development and Transport, the ADA University (Azerbaijan) and Huawei signed a trilateral Memorandum of Understanding to establish a Joint Research and Development Center for information and communication technologies. The R&D Center will train Azerbaijani IT specialists, granting them Huawei’s certificates. 5G is among the technologies in which the Azerbaijani specialists are set to be trained.
South Caucasus Actors Expressing Support for China
On 5 December, Xinhua reported comments by International Center on Conflict & Negotiations (ICCN) (Georgia) member Zaal Anjaparidze, with him saying “that China’s democratic practice makes clear to the world that there is no single model of democracy. China’s democratic system is full of Chinese wisdom and enriches the connotation of world democracy.”
In an 11 December interview with China Youth Daily, director of the Turan Information Agency (Azerbaijan), Mehman Aliyev, criticized democracy promotion by the United States, adding: “We saw that under the leadership of the people-oriented Communist Party of China, China now does not stop developing and rising, its national strength is becoming increasingly powerful, the people’s living standards are improving increasingly, and China’s democratic conditions have also made progress and achievement.”
In a 13 December interview with Xinhua, Benyamin Poghosyan, the head of the Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies in Yerevan, Armenia, criticized the Summit for Democracy organized by the US administration, and accused the US of trying to establish “a so-called alternative UN, where no country will have the veto power to oppose any US decision or plans“. Poghosyan also told the Chinese outlet that the US should focus its attention on solving “its deep-rooted problems such as racial and social inequality and the growing polarization between coastal megapolises and rural areas,“ that the 2020 presidential election dispute shook the foundations of the American democracy, and that the US was seeking to divide the world on the basis of ideology.
On 31 December, Poghosyan published an article in China Daily, writing that China should “fight against the anti-China propaganda,” and accusing “many Western governments and media outlets” of “spreading such notions as ‘debt diplomacy’ and the ‘China threat’ theory to spread anti-China sentiments across the world, including Africa, parts of Asia, Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics.” Poghosyan called on China “to ensure the SCO, the Belt and Road Initiative and other regional and global development initiatives play a leading role in neutralizing the negative effects of such propaganda.”
Armenian media reported on 23 December that Armenia’s post operator HayPost had issued a postage stamp dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China.
Stances and Activities by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia Benefiting China’s Foreign Policy
Support for the Belt and Road Initiative
Commenting on the first regular freight train launched between China and Georgia on 4 December, the Georgian ambassador to China, Archil Kalandia, said that with this project Georgia would play more active role in the Belt and Road Initiative. In this context, he called the freight train launch “a historic day for Georgian-Chinese relations.”
Other Support for China and its Policies
In a 7 December interview, Armenia’s ambassador to China, Sergey Manassarian, praised Chinese policies in Xinjiang. Manassarian stressed progress in the city of Urumqi particularly, saying in comparison with the same city 15-16 years ago: “Great difference, fantastic changes. This is a modern megapolis and the most important – the smiles [on the] faces”.