Today, the world has entered an era of multipolarization or in other words, international relations have become very complex in recent years. Moreover, the relations between the states have become further complicated by a sudden rise in the significance of economic factors globally, and by the fact that economic issues have a tendency to become political issues with the increase of interdependence among the states. Even the relations among the third-world states have gradually become complex due to widening discrepancy in their economic levels and the growing propensity for each state to pursue its own national interests. The recent conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia is a classic example to explain the convoluted nature of International Relations.
On 27th September, the frozen war between the two former Soviet Nations lit to fire again. The conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, famously called the Nagorno-Karabakh rift, is a territorial clash between them. The war came into existence when Armenia openly attacked Upper Karabakh, or Nagorno-Karabakh, which is recognized as part of Azerbaijan’s territory internationally. The ethnic Armenian forces seized the region and neighboring districts of Nagorno-Karabakh, killed thousands. Millions have to be displaced as a result of this conflict.
History has shown that any challenge to a state’s national security and sovereignty has led to never-ending conflicts in international relations. Similarly, last month, the territorial conflict based on ethnic grounds escalated once again when Armenian armed forces attacked Gashalti, an Azerbaijan village. It has become the worst of the military clashes since 2016. Many civilians and military forces were reported wounded and dead. Both have used ballistic missiles, stray rockets and mobilized their armed forces. It killed natives on both sides, but this conflict has attracted regional attention as in the new world order, there is no absolute advantage because of the connectedness within the countries. Thus, meanwhile, Azerbaijan gets support from Turkey and Israel, and Armenia stands alone in the conflict. The neighboring countries like Turkey, Iran, Russia and Israel have tried to drag the clash towards resuming negotiations between both, which looks unlikely in the current escalated process.
However, regional interests are owing to which countries have diplomatic ties with both of the states. China has its stakes in both countries and therefore has its take to have a win-win situation for itself and keep balanced relations between itself and Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Chinese foreign policy does not prioritize international relationships with South Caucasus states. Nevertheless, Azerbaijan and Armenia befall on the routes of One Belt Road Initiative of China, and hence to protect its stakes, China needs a peaceful passage for its trading products. Thus, its economic presence is exponential, dependent on the political dynamics of the region. Since 2013, the trade income as amplified 70 percent in Armenia and 100 percent in Azerbaijan.
China and Azerbaijan:
In comparison between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Chinese support and relations are relatively more tilted towards Azerbaijan. China invests exponentially in Azerbaijan, primarily in the field of natural resources, transit trade and infrastructure. Azerbaijan has the largest trade volume with China and is also the largest trading partner of China in the region. Both have signed bilateral trade deals in the non-oil sector worth US$800 million. In 2016, for constructing the Trans-Anatolian Natural Gas Pipeline Project via Turkey, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank granted Azerbaijan a loan of about US$600 million. Further, in 2019, the Minister of Economics of Azerbaijan announced that the Chinese are looking to expand their presence even more.
As the region of South Caucasus links the Middle East, Russia, China and Europe, therefore, it has enormous strategic and trade significance. Especially for China, it has a value-added benefit because of the Belt and Road Initiative. Passing through Azerbaijan roads makes the shortest route possible for BRI, from China to Western Europe, reducing the goods’ delivery time to 15 days only. Therefore, China has also invested in other large projects involving Azerbaijani transport infrastructure. It has called both the countries to resolve their issues and differences through dialogue, vis-a-vis pouring money in transport via land and infrastructure. China has also invested in Sea Trade Port worth 70 million dollars in Azerbaijan to upgrade the sea trade equipment.
In addition to this, China also provides weapons to Azerbaijan. It has sold the Qasirga T-300 system and Polonez Multiple Launch Rocket System to Azerbaijan. Moreover, both countries have signed a mutual agreement on military aid and that Azerbaijan will purchase more arms from China.
China and Armenia:
Azerbaijan and China are actively involved in strengthening their connectivity in trade, transport and military. Armenia also tries to open itself for Chinese investment. But, as Turkey and Iran are less involved in trade-deals with Armenia, China also finds less output in investing in the Armenian region. Of Armenia’s international border, only 19.8 percent is open.
Still, there are limited investments in Armenia, like in metals and heavy industry. Also, in 2018, a Chinese-Armenian Friendship School in Yerevan invested 12 million dollars. It pledged to provide weaponry worth 1.5 billion dollars in 2018. However, China has called for a halt to the conflict and does not support to a similar extent as it does Azerbaijan.
Conclusion China and the conflict:
Since China is interested in both the countries, it has stayed silent and has taken a neutral stance in the present territorial Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. However, China faces a problem because the Azeri media portrays China as supportive of them in the battle, in opposition to the secessionism created by ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.
For China, it is business that has to be focused upon. If it is getting a profit through bilateral terms; it is ready for it. It is deliberately not prepared to be involved in the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. In fact, China’s Spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Wang Wenbin, claimed that China wants all parties to remain calm. Maintenance of peace and stability will benefit all parties, including the two belligerents.
Nevertheless, the diplomatic ties with Armenia and Azerbaijan are inevitable for China. It has to manoeuver its diplomatic relationship equally with the two. Chinese are only stressing dialogue and avoiding any harsh statement, unlike Russia and Turkey, who are openly taking sides. Turkey supports Azerbaijan and asks Armenia to stop the succession of Azeri territory. Russia has good terms with both, but demands for a cease-fire to end in a peaceful resolution. As China is working for its own interests, so are Russia and Turkey.