Azerbaijan & China: joint development in shifting geopolitical landscape

Economy Materials 1 April 2023 15:30 (UTC +04:00)
Azerbaijan & China: joint development in shifting geopolitical landscape
Maryana Ahmadova
Maryana Ahmadova
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BAKU, Azerbaijan, April 1. The relations between Azerbaijan and China have been of the nature of strategic partnership. Personal efforts of President Ilham Aliyev, his close relations with Chinese President Xi Jinping, have been the key elements in the successful development of relations between the two countries. But today, as major changes occur on the global geopolitical map, strengthening the cooperation between Azerbaijan and China is more important than ever. And both the countries are on the fast track to achieve enormous progress in various fields, both separately and together. Strong political platform has been established long time ago, and, now, the creation of a framework for economic cooperation is underway.

The war in Ukraine has basically shaped the new world order. As old ways of cooperation no longer fit, everyone is rapidly searching for new partners, resources and transport routes. Here is when Azerbaijan, together with China, comes in hand.

Friendly relations between Presidents Ilham Aliyev and Xi Jinping play an important role in achieving the current high level of bilateral relations. Xi Jinping himself calls President Ilham Aliyev a great friend of China.

China’s role today is steeply increasing, thanks to its strong economy and political will. Thus, high level of relations between Azerbaijan and China is of particular importance for Azerbaijan’s national interests, first and foremost.

Transport cooperation is, perhaps, is the most important pillar on which the two countries have to focus on. With the development within the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR), of the so-called Middle Corridor, as well as with the proposal of new initiatives, such as the Zangazur corridor, Azerbaijan has truly become an international logistics and transport hub. Azerbaijan has also joined the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which has been the centerpiece of China’s foreign policy in recent years, and is actively developing within it.

President Ilham Aliyev in an interview with Chinese CGTN (China Global Television Network) TV channel in Davos back in January called the Belt and Road Initiative a very wise and timely project.

"Azerbaijan actively joined from the very beginning, and we started to invest in the infrastructure, which was not in place. So, over the last ten years, we built one of the largest, if not the largest, trade seaports in the Caspian, with a capacity of 15 million t, which we plan to expand to 25 million t. We build a shipyard to be able to manufacture the vessels to transport cargo across the Caspian. We invested largely in the railroad infrastructure, not only in Azerbaijan but also in the neighborhood. And now, we have allocated additional investments to expand the capacity of this railroad from Baku to the western destination. And we did all the necessary other projects, like highways and airports," President Ilham Aliyev said.

Cooperation in transport sector, within the Belt and Road project in particular, has boosted the volume of cargo transported from China through Azerbaijan to the West. The trade turnover between the two countries also saw growth over the last year. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic, that shook the whole world, could not but affect the cooperation between Azerbaijan and China. However, compared to the pre-pandemic figures, the trade turnover between the two countries in 2022 did not see any dramatic decrease and amounted to $2.15 billion ($2.18 billion in 2019). The stable increase is particularly evident, if compared annually. The figure of 2022 has increased by 20.7 percent year-on-year ($1.78 billion in 2021). Both in 2022, and 2021, China ranked fourth among the main trade partners for Azerbaijan.

In the same interview, President Ilham Aliyev pointed out that the Middle Corridor has a great future within the Belt and Road, and all other transport projects that China initiates, because, after all, all those routes will have to take their way through the Caspian.

"So, the "Belt and Road" Initiative also activated transportation through different routes, particularly north-south. And now we'll also talk about the Northwest. So, it's really a global project that is moving successfully, and all the countries on route already see the benefits. Of course, it depends on the strategies of the countries and how they treat the transportation projects. For us, it was one of the main factors in our efforts to diversify our economy and reduce our dependence on oil and gas revenues. So I can tell you that last year, the transits through Azerbaijan increased by 75%, not only because of the infrastructure but also because of proper management. And the measures that have been taken allow us to speed up the process of cargo transportation to eliminate bureaucratic obstacles and make it physically more attractive," President Ilham Aliyev said.

The geopolitical landscape of Eurasia is changing rapidly. However, the role of Azerbaijan within the framework of the Middle Corridor and the Chinese Belt and Road initiative is increasing day by day. Thanks to clear and farsighted foreign policy of President Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan is at the forefront in the Greater Eurasia region. China is expanding to the West, and the development of the Middle Corridor has become important for the further integration and connectivity of the Eurasian region. Thus, Azerbaijan and its initiatives are of paramount importance in the socio-economic, geopolitical and geostrategic orientation of China and the whole of Eurasia.