|Author: 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
On 24 March, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Secretary General Zhang Ming stated that SCO member states were actively considering giving observer status in the organization to Armenia and Azerbaijan. Zhang Ming added, however, that he could not say when exactly that might happen.
On 8 March, China’s ambassador to Azerbaijan, Guo Min, said in an interview that the two countries were “interacting strongly” regarding joint development of the Belt and Road Initiative, and that Azerbaijan’s Revival of the Great Silk Road strategy was “highly compatible” with China’s BRI.
Propaganda and Disinformation
On 9 March, Axios reported that Chinese state-controlled media CGTN was running ads on Facebook targeting users in various countries including Azerbaijan with pro-Russian talking points about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
On 31 March, Chinese ambassador to Azerbaijan, Guo Min, called on the citizens of China residing overseas to carry on “the fine tradition of loving the country and the native place, firmly safeguard national unity, play the role of a bridge, objectively and truly introduce the great beauty of Xinjiang.”
In March, Chinese media issued another salvo of disinformation against the Georgian Lugar biological laboratory. On 11 March, Global Times published a material inventing “deadly leaks” and “angry protests” supposedly related to the lab. CGTN published disinformation on the same topic on 14 March, China.com.cn did so on 17 March, Global Times followed up with another disinformation material on this topic on 22 March, and China Daily published one on 26 March. In this latter material by China Daily, deputy director of the Department for International and Strategic Studies at the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), Yang Chenxi, participated in spreading disinformation against Georgia on the topic of the Lugar biological laboratory.
Articles opposing Georgia reaching its key foreign policy goal of joining NATO were published by People’s Daily Online on 8 March, by China Daily on 9 March, and by Global Times on 20 March.
CGTN attacked the 2003 democratic revolution in Georgia in a material published on 2 March.
Economic Involvement and Connections
As reported by Bm.ge on 31 March, in November 2021 China Road and Bridge Corporation had become one of the three winners of a tender for the construction of a highway from Tbilisi to Kakheti, in Georgia. The Chinese company is set to construct a 23.8-kilometer Vaziani-Sagarejo section of the highway with the funding of 313.4 million GEL. Construction is to be completed in 30 months.
On 31 March, Georgia’s deputy economy minister, Guram Guramishvili, reported that the number of containers shipped to China and from China via Georgia in 2021 had surpassed the same number for 2020 by 221.6%, amounting to 10 094 TEU.
In early March, the Institute of Oriental Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Azerbaijan and the Confucius Institute at the Azerbaijan University of Languages held a conference, China under the International Relations System.
On 30 March, Azerbaijan‘s Ministry of Culture and China’s General Administration of Press and Publication signed a memorandum for the translation and publication of important works of classic literature of both countries over the next five years.
Stances and Activities by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia Benefiting China’s Foreign Policy
Support for the Belt and Road Initiative
Chinese think tank Center for China and Globalization (CCG) presented its publication, “China and the World in a Changing Context: Perspectives from Ambassadors to China” on 15 March. The publication included articles by the ambassadors of Azerbaijan and Georgia.
Azerbaijani ambassador, Akram Zeynalli, wrote that Azerbaijan was ready to work with China to use the BRI as an opportunity “to align the development plans of the two sides, deepen cooperation in infrastructure construction and other extensive areas…” Zeynalli also wrote that the planned transportation corridor to Nakhichevan (through southern Armenia) would play “an important role in terms of connectivity along the Belt and Road route, and bring about further opportunities for Azerbaijan and China to expand cooperation in transportation and logistics.”
Georgian ambassador, Archil Kalandia, said that the BRI not only promoted connectivity between different countries but also provided new opportunities for their economic development, and for international cooperation, stressing that Georgia welcomed more Chinese engineering enterprises to enter the country.
Other Support for China and its Policies
In an 11 May interview, Armenia’s ambassador to China, Sergey Manassarian, spoke against the Western accusations regarding China’s genocide in Xinjiang. Manassarian called the accusations ridiculous saying that the Uyghur population had went up twice during the last 50 years. He also denied existence of forced labor and other human rights violations in Xinjiang. Manassarian stressed the rapid development of Urumqi which he called an “ultramodern megapolis,” and added that the families he had visited in Xinjiang “are very calm, they are happy… everything is normal”.