The China Factor


By Edmond Y. Azadian

On August 9, Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Li Huilai headed an official delegation that visited Armenia for consultations between the foreign ministries of the two countries. The guests attended the official groundbreaking for the new Chinese embassy in Armenia, which will cover 40,000 square meters. It will be second in size amongst diplomatic compounds in the former Soviet Union. Of course, we already know about the gargantuan dimensions of the US embassy in Yerevan, this nation’s second-largest in the world, after Baghdad.

In 2015, when President Serzh Sargsyan visited Beijing, the Chinese government went out of its way to extend to him the highest diplomatic reception, raising some eyebrows in world capitals as to why a country of 1.5 billion people would lavish so much attention on a weak country with barely a population of 3 million.

China established diplomatic relations with Armenia 25 years ago and during that time span, it has demonstrated an extraordinary largesse towards that country, donating a fleet of ambulances, street cars and agricultural machinery, among many other things.

A few years ago, the Azerbaijani government raised hell that Beijing had supplied Armenia with armaments worth $1 billion. The Chinese government announced that it would look into the news to find out whether there was any truth to that accusation. To this day, no finding has been announced.

During the embassy ceremony, Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian announced that bilateral relations have been developing at a dynamic pace between the two nations. Some agreements were also signed in scientific and cultural realms. The two parties also agreed to begin direct flights between the two capitals. Nalbandian took the opportunity to thank the Chinese government for its balanced approach to the Karabakh conflict.

Get the Mirror in your inbox:

In view of the arms race imposed on the region by Azerbaijan, it does not hurt for Armenia to have a powerful friend such as China, which has developed one of the most sophisticated arms industries in the world. China also has veto power at the United Nations Security Council.

China is a rising world power and it is interesting to speculate where Armenia fits in the general scheme of Chinese plans.

China and the former Soviet Union are in stark contrast in the ideological sphere. The Soviet Union adopted the Marxist-Leninist ideology to develop a gulag society, where, in the name of the proletariat, a dictatorship of opportunism developed to oppress that very same proletariat. The Soviet system created equality in poverty for its citizens, while China developed equality in prosperity. The Chinese used the discipline of the Marxist system to elevate the living standards of 1.5 billion people. Domestically China allowed the emergence of a millionaire class without apologizing for its opportunism, as it conducted its foreign trade without ideological straps.

It may sound ironic that China’s ideological adversary, the US, is one of its greatest trading partners. And instead of reaching nuclear parity with the US, China has achieved economic leverage to influence US policy.

China’s economic influence is also all over the globe. Recently, the Beijing government undertook multi-trillion dollars’ worth of expenditures for a new silk route to expand its trade over the ancient Silk Road, extending from China all the way to Northern Europe. The Silk Road is in competition with Russian global initiatives and it will bypass Russian territory, extending through Central Asia. On its way, it will develop the economies of these countries. China’s plans not only challenge and contravene Russian economic plans, but also deter Turkey from penetrating into Central Asia.

It is a well-known fact that with the fall of the Soviet Empire, Enver Pasha’s pan-Turanist ideological designs were revived. Turkey dispatched delegations to the Central Asian Turkic nations to form a linguistic union, a plan which did not yield a solid partnership. Second, the element of religion was promoted, with Saudi assistance. Madrasas (religious schools) and mosques were built by those two countries but they did not conflagrate religious fanaticism among the people whose beliefs were tamed in the Soviet atheistic system.

But these failures have not deterred nor discouraged Turkey from continuing to try. Ankara also had the audacity to foment trouble in the Uyghur region of China. And perhaps that is why China is retaliating against the Turkish drive into Central Asia by developing strategic partners in the Caucasus. Armenia indirectly owes Chinese largesse to that global policy of Turkey.

China also has a vested interest in the Syrian war theater. The West has found it very easy and convenient to destroy countries in the Middle East under the label of “Arab Spring” or “regime change.” Syria and Iran were featured on the target list; therefore, China along with Russia, had to draw the red line. While Russia has a military base in Armenia to project its power in the Middle East, China is actively seeking to develop one because the Middle East remains one of the important components of Chinese foreign policy.

Although Chinese and Russian policies are parallel in the Middle East, the two countries are on a collision course ethnographically. Indeed, despite Beijing’s two-child policy per family, the Chinese population is growing at an alarming rate. To prevent a population explosion and meet the economic needs of its population, China will need to conquer new territory. Where else could that territory be found if not in Russia, where the population is dwindling, along with the entire Asian hinterland of Russia, which is sparsely populated. Already, Chinese outposts have been penetrating the region peacefully.

China’s projection of power in the Caucasus region is a welcome development for Armenia.

Russia’s strategic partnership with Armenia has a cavalier bent to it. That is why Armenia has not yet dropped its partnership with Europe and recently participated in NATO military exercises in Georgia.

China thus far has been using its soft power in the Caucasus and Armenia is one of its beneficiaries. President Heydar Aliyev boasts that the Azerbaijani-Israeli relations are like an iceberg, 95 percent submerged. It would have been ideal for Armenia to create such an iceberg in its relations with China.



Get the Mirror-Spectator Weekly in your inbox: