|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
In May 2022, China went beyond media propaganda in attacking the 2003 democratic Rose Revolution in Georgia, and engaged its official diplomacy in this effort.
A report published by the Chinese foreign ministry on 7 May contained the following passage: “NED [National Endowment for Democracy] was seen behind color revolutions instigated and orchestrated by the United States, including the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, and the Arab Spring… In 2003, the Rose Revolution broke out in Georgia, and then President Eduard Shevardnadze was forced to step down. In this color revolution, NED planned and participated in the entire process from ‘selecting’ opposition leaders, training the opposition and providing huge funds.”
On 9 May, China’s foreign ministry speaker Zhao Lijian said that the US “has long used democracy as a tool and a weapon to undermine democracy in the name of democracy,” and “has subverted lawful governments and cultivated pro-US puppet forces,” bringing up the 2003 Rose Revolution as one of the examples.
Another example used by Zhao Lijian was the break-up of the Soviet Union – an event celebrated as restoration of national independence in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and 11 other sovereign nations. Importantly, this historic event is also habitually used in the negative context by the Kremlin while engaging in propaganda against the sovereignty of its neighbors targeted by the Russian aggression.
China’s leader, Xi Jinping, praised his country’s Belt and Road Initiative cooperation with Azerbaijan in a 28 May letter sent to the Azerbaijani president, Ilham Aliyev.
The same message regarding the BRI was delivered by the Chinese ambassador to Azerbaijan, Guo Min, in her article published on 18 May. Guo Min also wrote that in their close cooperation in various international organizations both China and Azerbaijan “resolutely oppose unilateralism and hegemonic bullying” while supporting one another’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
In a 26 May letter to the prime minister of Georgia, Irakli Garibashvili, Chinese premier of the State Council, Li Keqiang, expressed his desire “to deepen our cooperation with you in the framework of the joint construction of the Belt and Road Initiative” calling the BRI “increasingly important for the relations and friendship between China and Georgia.”
In a message from 23 May, China’s newly appointed ambassador to Georgia, Zhou Qian, also highlighted the two countries’ cooperation on the BRI.
In an article published on 31 May, China’s ambassador to Armenia, Fan Yong, wrote that Armenia, as well as other countries in the region, was welcome to “actively support and participate in” the Global Security Initiative proposed by the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping.
Propaganda and Disinformation
Chinese media continued its attacks on Georgia’s 2003 democratic Rose Revolution in May 2022.
China Daily targeted the Rose Revolution in its materials published on 17 and 19 May, and China News did so in a material published on 28 May. All materials aimed to connect the Georgian democratic revolution to support by the National Endowment for Democracy.
Economic Involvement and Connections
Armenia’s trade with China increased by 39.3 percent reaching 312.7 million dollars in the first quarter of 2022 as compared to the same period of 2021.
On 10 May, the first full-length container train of the largest Finnish freight operator, Nurminen Logistics, departed from Chongqing, China on a route to Central Europe running through Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Romania. Weekly trains on the route were scheduled to begin in June.
Japanese Nippon Express Holdings reported on 17 May that on 1 April 2022 its group company, Nippon Express (China), had launched a new railway transportation service between China and Europe across the Caspian Sea running through Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. The service frequency is once per week, freight delivery is to take 50-55 days, and the end point cities are Xi’an in China and Duisburg in Germany.
As reported by Azerbaijani media on 19 May, Danish transport and logistics group Maersk had launched an updated rail service between China and Europe. Freight delivery takes 40 days with the route running through Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Romania. The service started in April 2022.
Huawei continued to train Armenian students in the information and communication technologies, hosting the second season of its Seeds for the Future Program on 23-30 May.
South Caucasus Actors Expressing Support for China
The chairman of the Center for Political and Economic Strategic Studies in Yerevan, Armenia, Benyamin Poghosyan, published a pro-China and anti-Western article in the Chinese media outlet, China Daily, on 26 May. Poghosyan defended Chinese government’s actions in Xinjiang, and accused the US and the UK of information campaigns against China regarding the Xinjiang issue. He also condemned the US effort to “contain China,” and supported the Chinese government’s foreign policy concepts of the Belt and Road Initiative and “a community with a shared future for mankind.”
Poghosyan published another article in China Daily on 31 May, issuing the same messages regarding Xinjiang and the American and British reactions on China’s genocidal policies in that region.
On 31 May, China Daily also published an author from Azerbaijan, the director of the “international expert club” EurAsiaAz and the editor-in-chief of Baku Tribune news agency, Seymur Mammadov. In a curious coincidence with Poghosyan’s messages published that same day, Mammadov also defended China’s actions in Xinjiang, and accused Western media of publishing anti-Chinese fake news regarding that region. Mammadov explained that concentration camps and forced labor centers in Xinjiang had the purpose of giving employment to the Uyghurs and improving their education.
An international conference titled “Armenia and One Belt, One Road Initiative: challenges and problems” was held on 3-5 May at the Armenian State University of Economics. Chinese ambassador, Fan Yong, participated in the event.
Mayors of the Western Georgian city of Kutaisi and the Chinese city of Xi’an signed a friendship and partnership agreement on 6 May. Georgian ambassador to China, Archil Kalandia, took part in the online signing ceremony.
Armenian media reported on 23 May that the Chinese embassy in Armenia was starting a new project aimed at contributing to the development of Armenian provinces in education, tourism, trade and business fields. The project started from the Aragatsotn province. Chinese ambassador, Fan Yong, said that China sought to present more of the Chinese culture to the Armenians.
Stances and Activities by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia Benefiting China’s Foreign Policy
Support for the Belt and Road Initiative
In an interview on 26 May, Georgian Independence Day, Georgia’s ambassador to China, Archil Kalandia, announced plans to host another Tbilisi Belt and Road Forum. Kalandia stressed that aside from China, Georgia was the only country organizing Belt and Road Forums having already done so in 2015, 2017 and 2019.
Kalandia said that Georgia was actively involved in the BRI, that the BRI was “crucially important” for Georgia in order to utilize its transit potential, and that it offered “peace, stability and development.” Kalandia also praised “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” and opined that “many countries should learn from China.”