China’s Ambitions in Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus Russie.Nei.Visions, No. 112, Ifri, December 2018
Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus have long been a blind-spot for Chinese diplomacy and economic policy. For over a decade, however, China has been laying the foundations of a long-term presence in the area, a process which has accelerated since the end of 2013 with the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative.
Since then, China has pushed forward across many different sectors, funding the construction of infrastructure, prompting local governments to cooperate over defence and internal security and cultivating ties with political and business elites.
Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia are not a priority for Beijing in and of themselves but are instead essential pieces in a game that will be played over the long term across the Eurasian continent. Beijing’s evolving strategy in the area should therefore be seen in the wider context of its aim to strengthen its influence across the whole continent in order to challenge American power. Even though China takes pains to tread lightly, its presence risks undermining democratic norms and Western influence in the area.
Nadège Rolland is a Senior Fellow and specialist in Asian politics and strategy at the National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR), an independent American think-tank based in Seattle and Washington, DC.