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
Ambassador of China in Azerbaijan, Guo Min, visited the headquarters of Azerbaijan’s ruling New Azerbaijan Party on 15 June 2021, meeting with the party’s deputy chairmen Ali Ahmadov and Tahir Budagov. The Chinese Embassy expressed readiness on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) “to conduct an in-depth exchange of experience in the field of party building and state governance with the New Azerbaijan Party to further enrich the forms and content of cooperation between the two parties.” The two New Azerbaijan Party deputy chairmen praised the CCP’s “experience in state governance” and said the two ruling parties carried the same historical mission.
Chinese Ambassador in Armenia, Fan Yong, wrote in an article published on 24 June that the CCP was “willing to continue to strengthen exchanges and cooperation with friendly political parties in Armenia” as well as “share experience in party and country governance.”
It is notable in this context that shortly before the Armenian general election of 20 June 2021, in April and May, Fan Yong held meetings with leaders of Armenian parties opposed to the government of Nikol Pashinyan – Serzh Sargsyan of the Republican Party and Gagik Tsarukyan of the Prosperous Armenia Party.
In a 3 June telephone conversation with President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev, China’s leader Xi Jinping said the two countries should ensure sound planning and effective implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) cooperation. Xi Jinping also said the two countries should promote development of Asia-Europe transportation corridors.
Ambassador of China to Azerbaijan, Guo Min, said in a 10 June interview that Azerbaijan’s Restoration of the Historic Silk Road strategy was highly congenial with the Belt and Road initiative. The Ambassador also said that China was willing to cooperate with Azerbaijan in building infrastructure under the BRI framework, making use of Azerbaijan’s advantages as a trans-Eurasian transportation hub.
China’s Ambassador to Georgia, Li Yan, praised her country’s foreign policy at a 15 June event dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CCP. Li Yan said the party supported peace and the development of mankind and called China a central peacekeeping force in the world, adding that it was engaged in “fighting hegemony” and sought “community with shared future for mankind.” The Ambassador also praised Chinese-Georgian BRI cooperation saying it was “developing continuously.”
During a joint event with the Georgian Ambassador to China, Archil Kalandia, on 18 June 2021, Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister, Le Yucheng, expressed hope that cooperation between Georgia and China would be strengthened within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative.
Tianxia yijia (“under heaven is one family”) – a concept frequently described to signify a Sino-centric international order – was promoted by the Chinese ambassadors in Armenia and Azerbaijan during events held by local Confucius Institutes, respectively, on 9 and 12 June 2021.
Economic Involvement and Connections
During a meeting with China’s Ambassador to Armenia, Fan Yong, on 2 June 2021, Armenian Minister of Economy, Vahan Kerobyan, invited Chinese companies to participate in the project of designing, constructing and operating an innovative city on the Yerevan-Gyumri highway, as well as in the industrial parks projects in Ararat, Meghri and Gyumri.
Azerbaijani MP and member of the Azerbaijan-China Working Group on Interparliamentary Relations, Aydin Huseynov, said on 3 June 2021 that Chinese companies had invested over $900 million in Azerbaijan, and that China had issued a $600 million loan to finance the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline (TANAP) natural gas pipeline project.
South Caucasus Actors Expressing Support for China
June 2021 saw particularly numerous and robust protestations of support for China and its ruling regime by the relevant South Caucasus actors, many of them related to the CCP’s 100th anniversary.
In Azerbaijan, a number of articles have been published in praise of China and the CCP.
On 7 June, Seymur Mammadov, the director of Eurasia-Azerbaijan (EurAsiaAz) “international expert club” and editor-in-chief of news agency Vzglyad.az, published an article entitled “The Communist Party of China: A hundred years of remarkable achievements”. Mammadov criticized the United States and other Western nations for trying to “shake the giant China” which, in Mammadov’s estimation, constitutes an impossible task.
Rashad Karimov, the founder and CEO of the Azerbaijan-China Cooperation Public Union and senior adviser to the director general of the Port of Baku, published his article on 11 June, expressing the positive sentiments he entertains towards China, and praising its BRI strategy among other achievements.
The director of the Azerbaijani branch of the Confucius Institute at the Azerbaijan University of Languages, Rafiq Abbasov, who is also a member of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, praised the Chinese model of governance and the “socialism with Chinese characteristics” in his 15 June article. Abbasov also noted the “constantly deepening” dialogue and cooperation between the New Azerbaijan Party and the CCP.
The head of the Department of Languages and Literature of the Far East at the Baku State University, Ogtay Jalilbayli, in his 18 June article entitled “Azerbaijan is China’s natural strategic cooperative partner,” also praised the CCP and its “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” as well as the cooperation between China and Azerbaijan concerning the Silk Road.
Yasif Nasirov, the chairman of the Azerbaijan’s Foreign Friendship Association, the chairman of Veterans Charity Foundation, and vice chairman of World Azerbaijani Cultural Center, delivered his own portion of lavish praise of China on 21 June. Besides speaking of the CCP’s numerous achievements and China-Azerbaijan Silk Road cooperation, Nasirov wrote that the “leadership of the Communist Party and the public-owned economy” was “the main part that guaranteed the validity of socialism with Chinese characteristics.” He also stressed the role of the Azerbaijan’s Foreign Friendship Association in promoting relations between Azerbaijan and China.
The director of the Azerbaijani Language Teaching and Research section at the Asian Institute of the Beijing Foreign Studies University, Agshin Aliyev, published his article on 25 June, praising the BRI and saying that “today, the great project of the Silk Road became an important fulcrum for building a community with shared future for mankind.”
On 2 June, Azertac news agency head, Aslan Aslanov, sent a congratulatory letter on the 40th anniversary of a Chinese state media outlet China Daily to its editor-in-chief Zhou Shuchun. Aslanov expressed his media outlet’s readiness to contribute to “fulfilling the missions” assigned by President Ilham Aliyev and Chairman Xi Jinping concerning the further strengthening of China-Azerbaijan relations.
On June 15, the Georgian Times outlet and its head, Malkhaz Gulashvili, co-hosted together with the Chinese Embassy in Georgia a conference dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CCP. Gulashvili said he wished for Georgia to share the “positive experience” of China in the last 100 years as well as the CCP’s “major reforms.” He also announced plans to establish a “China-Georgia TV bridge” with the participation of Chinese experts.
Professor at the Caucasus International University and member of the International Association of Sinologists, Vakhtang Maisaia, in the past convicted in Georgia for spying for Russia, said at the conference that “introduction of the Chinese experience in Georgia will be very good,” and discussed “geostrategic and geopolitical aspects of the new world order and the formula for China’s center of global influence”.
Among numerous participants of the conference were adviser to the Georgian Minister of Agriculture and director of the Research Institute of China Studies at the Georgian Technical University, Jemal Putkaradze, who spoke about “Georgian-Chinese geoeconomic success and achievements,” and associate professor at the Caucasus International University, Alexander Guchua, speaking about “Experience of successful reform of Chinese statehood for Georgia.”
Deputy director of a Georgian channel TV 24, Badri Nachkebia, published an article on 2 June, supporting China’s policies in Xinjiang. Nachkebia wrote that the authorities in Xinjiang were doing their “best to improve the well-being of the people and establish lasting peace and stability in the region,” that “peace, progress and prosperity reigned” in Xinjiang, and that government policies aimed to ensure equality between peoples and at preserving identity of peoples and their traditions.
The outlet that published Nachkebia’s article, News Day, also published other articles in the section “About Xinjiang” (the section title written for some reason in the Russian language). The titles included: “What American political rulers are looking for in Xinjiang”, “Fighting terrorism in Xinjiang: stability first and foremost”, “Broad, consistent, full of life and hope – this is the professional training center in Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region” and “China’s Xinjiang is a beautiful place where harmony reigns.”
Adviser to the Georgian Minister of Agriculture and director of the Research Institute of China Studies at the Georgian Technical University, Jemal Putkaradze, published an article in a Chinese state media outlet, China Daily, on 18 June. Putkaradze wrote that China continued to “amaze the world with its remarkable achievements” and was exhibiting “wise and able leadership”. Putkaradze also praised the China-Georgia cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative framework.
The electoral program of the Armenian political opposition bloc Armenia Alliance, established by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation party and the Reborn Armenia party in May 2021 and led by former President of Armenia, Robert Kocharyan, was published on 9 June and included a statement saying that “cooperation with China will be moved towards a new quality level, including in the context of regional collaboration.” The program also endorsed the Belt and Road Initiative.
Director of the China-Eurasia Council for Political and Strategic Research (Armenia), Mher Sahakyan, presented conclusions of his research about China’s role in the South Caucasus, Iran and Turkey on 2 June 2021. Sahakyan concluded that in the near future China would be able to transform its growing economic presence in the region into greater political influence.
Chinese representatives expressed their willingness to increase cooperation with 16 formally non-government organizations from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member states, observer states, and dialogue partners. Among these organizations were the Heydar Aliyev Foundation (Azerbaijan) and China-Eurasia Center for Strategic Studies (Armenia).
Georgian Chamber of Culture has signed a memorandum with a Chinese state company DAFANG. The purpose is to establish an international cultural-educational center in Georgia that will aim to implement exchange programs between Georgia and China in the fields of culture, education, art and finance. Students of Georgian Technical University are set to be involved in this project.
A new wind-solar hybrid power station was constructed in Julfa District of Azerbaijan’s Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic with the help of a Chinese government grant.
Stances and Activities by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia Benefiting China’s Foreign Policy
Support for the Belt and Road Initiative
Azerbaijan’s ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) MP, Afet Hasanova, said that Azerbaijan was one of the first countries which had supported the BRI and was greatly contributing to it by its large-scale transport and infrastructure projects such as the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad and Baku International Sea Trade Port. Hasanova also added to this list the prospective Zangezur corridor through the Armenian territory.
Azerbaijani Ambassador to China, Akram Zeynalli, said on 15 June 2021 that the BRI created new opportunities for the participating countries, and discussed the significant role of Azerbaijan in the transportation between Asia and Europe.
Other Support for China and its Policies
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev stressed in his 3 June telephone conversation with China’s leader Xi Jinping that Azerbaijan had always firmly supported China’s position on issues related to Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and would continue to do so.