|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
Chinese Ambassador to Georgia, Li Yan, in her video on the occasion of the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (1 October 2021), said that China sought to keep developing its relations with Georgia on the basis of high-level cooperation within the Belt and Road Initiative.
Li Yan also published an article on 1 October, praising her government’s policies regarding the pandemic, and stressing China’s declared goal to establish a “community of common health for mankind.” She also once again positively assessed the China-Georgia cooperation within the BRI framework.
In a 28 October interview, Li Yan said that China would welcome Georgia’s involvement in the Xi Jinping’s new Global Development Initiative.
Propaganda and Disinformation
The Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (DFRLab) report from 21 October noted existence of “a network comprised of at least two Facebook pages and one Facebook group… working in coordination to promote a Georgian-language website that publishes articles in support of China and critical of the United States.”
Economic Involvement and Connections
On 7 October, the Georgian Railway reported that in January-August 2021, container rail shipments with China through the trans-Caspian corridor increased by 268 percent, compared to the same period last year.
China remained Georgia’s third trade partner by total turnover, and its first partner by exports, according to the data for January-September 2021.
South Caucasus Actors Expressing Support for China
CEO of Georgia’s Partnership Fund and the ruling Georgian Dream party member, David Saganelidze, made a congratulatory video for the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (1 October 2021), issuing lavish praise of China and its role in the modern world: “The homeland of the historic Silk Road and the initiator of the new Belt and Road Initiative, its leader, Mr Xi Jinping, through well-defined and global reforms and policies, are helping to create even more advanced infrastructure for the continents of Asia, Europe and Africa that is a prerequisite for overall economic prosperity.” Saganelidze also said that Georgia, “as a country of the historic Silk Road,” was an important part of the BRI.
Adviser to the Georgian Minister of Agriculture and the director of the Research Institute of China Studies at the Georgian Technical University, Jemal Putkaradze, also made a video for the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the PRC, praising the “very wise leadership” of the Chinese Communist Party.
President of Media Holding Georgian Times, Malkhaz Gulashvili, in his video for the same occasion, said that he was sure that in the near future China would become one of the leading countries in the world, “if not the only one”. He also added with satisfaction that he had a lot of friends in China, including government officials.
In a 1 October congratulatory message to the Chinese embassy, director of the China-Eurasia Council for Political and Strategic Research in Armenia, Mher Sahakyan, called China “a role model for many developing countries” and a responsible great power. Sahakyan expressed confidence in China’s continued rise, saying it was “important for the shared future of mankind, proposed by President Xi Jinping”.
On 28 October, the first Confucius Classroom was opened at the Russian-Armenian University in Yerevan, Armenia, with support from the Dalian University (China).
Stances and Activities by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia Benefiting China’s Foreign Policy
Support for the Belt and Road Initiative
President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, in a letter to the CCP Chairman, Xi Jinping, expressed confidence that cooperation between China and Azerbaijan within the Belt and Road Initiative would successfully continue, writing: “The enormous transnational cooperation platform, the Belt and Road that came to fruition upon your initiative, advances expansion of economic and trade relations in the Eurasian space.” Aliyev also praised “involvement of the Chinese companies in the restoration and reconstruction of the East Zangezur and Karabakh economic regions.”
During the 8th meeting of the Azerbaijan-China Intergovernmental Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation, Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister, Shahin Mustafayev, stressed the importance of the BRI, and expressed Azerbaijan’s interest “in benefiting from China’s rich experience in digital development and information and communications sectors”. Mustafayev also praised the Huawei’s activities in Azerbaijan.
During the 18-19 October Second Belt and Road Energy Ministerial Conference in Qingdao, China, Azerbaijan’s Minister of Energy, Parviz Shahbazov, made a statement saying that the new Zangezur corridor that is supposed to run through south Armenia in the future, under the control of the Russian FSB state security agency’s border guards, will further enhance the strategic importance of the Belt and Road Initiative. Shahbazov added that Azerbaijan had been playing the role of an important bridge between China and Europe through the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, the Baku International Sea Trade Port, the International North-South Transport Corridor and the trans-Caspian transit corridor.
In a congratulatory video for the 72nd anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (1 October 2021), Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani praised China-Georgia cooperation within the BRI framework calling it “an opportunity for new infrastructure and economic cooperation for both countries,” and expressing the hope that more specific projects would be implemented in the near future. Zalkaliani also stressed Georgia’s unwavering adherence to the One-China principle.
Georgian Ambassador to China, Archil Kalandia, in his video for the PRC’s 72nd anniversary, stressed that it was especially important for Georgia to be even more actively involved in the Belt and Road Initiative.
The Envoy of the Embassy of Georgia to China, David Pipinashvili, addressed an event held in Henan, China on 8-9 October, saying that the BRI gave Georgia an opportunity to make a more efficient use of its transport-transit and logistics capabilities and to be actively involved in the international trade.
Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of Armenia, Hakob Arshakyan, speaking on the occasion of the PRC’s 72nd anniversary, praised Armenia’s participation in the development of the BRI saying it provided major opportunities for the cooperation in transportation, investment and finance spheres.
Other Support for China and its Policies
Armenia became a founding member of the Asian Alliance for Cultural Heritage Conservation that was launched in Beijing on 27 October 2021. Among other founding members are: Cambodia, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, North Korea, Pakistan, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.