Baku-Beijing ties gear up in light of Azerbaijan’s rising global role

7 June 2021 16:32 (UTC+04:00)

By Vafa Ismayilova

Against the background of Azerbaijan's increasing regional leadership and significance in global politics, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev received two phone calls of extreme importance from two global power centers at once. Chinese President Xi Jinping and European Council President Charles Michel called Baku on June 2.

This can be seen as a manifestation of assessment of the aforesaid facts about Azerbaijan after the last year’s victory in the 44-day war with Armenia.

Azerbaijan takes key position in China's plans

The trade turnover of China, which is one of the global power centers today, being the second economy in the world, reaches $ 500 billion and it is growing despite all the obstacles. Even its enemies assess its prospects very highly. Undoubtedly, it will occupy a special place in the post-pandemic world order, the outlines of which are already visible today. In the light of this picture, developing Azerbaijani-Chinese relations are considered to be fundamentally important.

It is gratifying to note that China assigns one of the key positions in its grandiose plans to Azerbaijan. The country’s advantageous geographical position is not the only important point here. Azerbaijan is an established state, pursuing an independent policy, leading in its region in all respects, capable of setting broad goals and achieving them.

Moreover, as a conscientious and responsible partner, Azerbaijan’s interests and actions do not depend on the state of affairs in the global political arena. For example, if today, a US-proposed campaign starts in Europe for the EU countries to withdraw from China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, this does not mean that Baku, being a long-standing EU partner, will follow someone's example in order to keep up. On the contrary, under such circumstances, the Middle Corridor of the New Silk Road, which passes through Azerbaijan, acquires even greater significance.

In his conversation, Jinping stressed that Chinese-Azerbaijani relations are on the threshold of a new historical stage. Both countries are developing traditional friendship, deepening cooperation, and expanding mutual support. The Chinese leader emphasized the importance of partnership with Azerbaijan in the implementation of the One Belt, One Road initiative and expressed readiness to further encourage Chinese companies to invest in Azerbaijan.

For his part, President Ilham Aliyev expressed his readiness to further strengthen ties with Beijing in all spheres and welcomed the expansion of the activities of Chinese companies in Azerbaijan.

History of Azerbaijani-Chinese ties

It should be noted that Azerbaijan’s national leader Heydar Aliyev laid the foundation of high-level political dialogue and economic partnership by his official visit to China in 1994.

During Aliyev’s official visit to China, Baku and Beijing signed a joint statement to lay the foundation of friendly relations between China and Azerbaijan on March 7, 1994. The parties pledged to develop relations of friendship and cooperation based on the principles of mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, non-aggression, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, as well as peaceful coexistence. Baku and Beijing still continue to adhere to all these principles in their relations.

President Aliyev has successfully developed and moved to a qualitatively new stage the Azerbaijani-Chinese dialogue and bilateral ties.

China is one of the first countries to recognize Azerbaijan’s independence. The two countries will mark the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations in 2022.

Azerbaijan and China are countries that strongly oppose separatism and always support each other's territorial integrity. Aliyev has repeatedly stressed that Azerbaijan consistently supports the One China policy. For his part, Jinping has repeatedly noted China's support for Azerbaijan's sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence.

During the last conversation between the two presidents, this position, which brings the two states and two peoples closer together, was reaffirmed.

President Aliyev visited China more than once to join international events: to participate in the opening of the Beijing Olympics in August 2008, to participate in the Fourth CICA Summit in May 2014, to participate in the Second International Cooperation Forum One Belt, One Road in April 2019. The Azerbaijani leader paid state visits to Beijing twice - in March 2005 and in December 2015.

Aliyev's official visit to Beijing in March 2005 was of particular importance for the development of bilateral relations. As part of the visit, the two countries signed a political declaration to regulate bilateral political relations and concluded economic, legal, cultural, and humanitarian cooperation accords. During his state visit to Beijing on December 8-11, 2015, Aliyev signed a Joint Statement in which the parties decided to further develop the existing relations of mutual respect, equality, and mutual benefit.

One Belt, One Road project

In a telephone conversation, the heads of the two states touched on the importance of coordinating activities within the development of the One Belt, One Road project, noted the need to deepen cooperation in the transport and logistics sector, in the creation of transport corridors in Central Asia and Europe.

Currently, both countries are expanding their activity within the development of the One Belt, One Road project. Azerbaijan was one of the first countries which supported the China-initiated global transport corridor project.  Aliyev earlier underlined the project's role in serving peace, security, and cooperation, not only the transport sector.

During Aliyev’s visit to Beijing in December 2015, Azerbaijan and China signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly promote the creation of the Silk Road Economic Belt. The Azerbaijan-initiated Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway and the Baku International Sea Trade Port, initiated by Azerbaijan, have an important place as part of the Silk Road Economic Belt and these transport routes are the shortest route for the supply of goods from China to Europe and from Europe to China.

The first container train from China crossed the territory near the Caspian Sea and arrived in Azerbaijan in 2015. The cargoes have been transported via the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway since 2018.

The One Belt, One Road project aims to ensure the smooth trade and free movement of goods, which is strategically important. It simultaneously promotes economic globalization towards more inclusive, open, and mutually beneficial development. The project also ensures a sustainable foundation for building a new model of international relations. Therefore, the participation of Azerbaijan and China in this project is a complementary factor in bilateral cooperation.

At a meeting of the Azerbaijani and Chinese presidents in April 2019, as part of the One Belt, One Road forum, the latter described Azerbaijan as the main China partner in Eurasia, being among those, who first responded and actively participated in the project’s implementation.

Jinping described Aliyev as China’s old friend and highly appreciated his constant personal efforts to develop Chinese-Azerbaijani relations and cooperation in all fields.

“I highly appreciate this and am ready to maintain close contacts with you, to conduct bilateral relations on the path of healthy development," the Chinese leader said.

These words are a high assessment given by the leader of world power to the Azerbaijani leader and can be regarded as a manifestation of confidence in official Baku and recognition of its capabilities.

More Chinese investments in Azerbaijan

During a conversation between the two leaders on June 2, Xi Jinping noted Beijing's readiness to further encourage Chinese companies to invest in Azerbaijan. After Azerbaijan liberated its territories following the victorious 44-day war, these remarks by the Chinese leader sound more relevant than ever. Huawei-Azerbaijan has already joined the works in the Zangilan region.

As a leading company in the field of global IT technologies, Huawei has expressed its willingness to present the most advanced technologies in Karabakh and take part in the development of smart villages and smart cities. As a provider of leading smart city and smart village technologies, the company has extensive experience in this area, implementing more than 100 global projects. The company plans to use the AirPON Gigabyte technology for the first time in Azerbaijan in Karabakh. The AirPON device has already been presented to the Azerbaijani president's attention.

Other Chinese companies are already showing interest in participating in the restoration work. The process has just begun, and Chinese specialists will have where to apply their capabilities.

In turn, Jinping's remarks that China intends to import high-quality special products from Azerbaijan deserve attention. China has recently been learning more and more about the possibilities of Azerbaijan. Trade houses of Azerbaijan, opening in China, play an important role here. In April, the third Trade House of Azerbaijan was opened in the city of Qingdao in China. Some 45 types of domestic products and Azerbaijan's investment, transport, transit, and tourism potential are displayed there.

It should be noted that the dynamics of export and import between the countries has greatly increased over the past five years. The trade turnover amounted to $561 million in 2015, $975 million in 2016, $1.3 billion in 2017, $1.31 billion in 2018, $2.2 billion in 2019 and 2020.

At present, Azerbaijan is exporting goods worth more than $780 million to China. Azerbaijan's share is 45 percent in the volume of trade between China and the South Caucasian countries. Chinese companies have invested over $900 million in Azerbaijan.

There are about 120 companies with Chinese investments in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan's investments in the Chinese economy amount to $1.7 billion. China issued a loan worth $600 million to finance the TANAP gas project.

Mutual support 

The Azerbaijan-China relations are based on true, sincere friendship and close partnership. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Azerbaijan and China, demonstrating true friendship, overcame difficulties and supported each other. One of the first countries to which China supplied its vaccine was Azerbaijan. Fulfilling its partnership obligations, Beijing timely supplied vaccines and sent its experts to Baku. In turn, Baku also provided considerable relevant assistance to China, which was later thanked by Beijing.

They assisted other countries, constantly recalling the importance of fair vaccine distribution and availability, stating that only coordinated efforts will facilitate the victory over the coronavirus. China allocated $ 3 billion to developing countries, Azerbaijan provided humanitarian and financial aid to 30 states.

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