China Continues to Deepen its Political Influence in Georgia
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China Continues to Deepen its Political Influence in Georgia

18 September 2023


Bottom Line

  • China is increasing its influence in Georgia while laying the groundwork to reshape the Middle Corridor—a network of sea and land freight routes crisscrossing Central Asia and the South Caucasus that connect China and East Asia to Europe.
  • China, Russia, the United States, and the European Union are all competing to reshape power dynamics in the South Caucasus. The West’s preoccupation with the war in Ukraine, Russia’s strategic decline, the incoherence of US policy towards Georgia, and the failure of the European Neighborhood policy created a power vacuum in the South Caucasus and opened the space for Beijing to fill the vacuum.
  • Beijing aims to link Central Asia with the South Caucasus through the Middle Corridor and boost and monopolize regional connectivity.
  • China offers a significant institutional framework and autocratic alternative to what the West has to offer for regional development.
Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili’s recent visit to China and his meeting with President Xi Jinping heralded the establishment of a strategic partnership between China and Georgia. Garibashvili called his visit historic. Moreover, he expressed Tbilisi’s willingness to deepen its relationship with Beijing and support all the global projects—the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Global Civilizational Initiative, Global Development Initiative, and the Global Security Initiative—China is invested in to reshape international rules and norms and revise the world order. In a joint statement on the strategic partnership issued by Tbilisi and Beijing, the two sides expressed their interest in strengthening cooperation on a wide range of issues, including, but not limited to transportation, telecommunications, infrastructure modernization, and digital technologies. Both parties agreed to exchange experiences in governance. Beijing’s strategic move in Georgia reflects China’s growing interest in Georgia’s strategic location and its inclination to increase its footprint in the region. It also indicates its desire to link up Central Asia with the South Caucasus through the Middle Corridor network of sea and land freight routes, and access lucrative markets in Europe and beyond. The joint statement also illustrated China's intention to build, consolidate, and control physical, soft, and digital infrastructure crisscrossing both regions, boosting strategic connectivity, and monopolizing it as part of its expanding BRI.  Sino-Georgian Economic, Trade, and Cultural Dynamics For the past two decades, China has been laying the groundwork for greater engagement in the South Caucasus, particularly in Georgia, where its economic presence has increased considerably over that span of time. By integrating Georgia into the Belt and Road Initiative in 2016 and signing a Free Trade Agreement with Tbilisi in 2017, China gradually strengthened and institutionalized its economic and trade ties. China used a wide range of financial structures including the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank, China Development Bank, Exim Bank, Bank of China, and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China to shape connectivity in the region and increase its influence in Georgia. Today, China has become Georgia’s third-largest trade partner. In 2022, Georgian exports to China increased to $737 million, while imports from China surpassed $1.25 billion. In parallel, China has actively invested in Georgia’s hydropower sector, transportation infrastructure, railways, ports, and free industrial zones. Chinese companies increased their market shares in Georgia’s hotel, shopping, and housing markets.  In the same vein, China has allocated considerable resources for educational and cultural projects, using its soft power tools to promote and popularize the Chinese language and culture in Georgia. In 2010, China established the first Confucius Institute—an arm of its propaganda machine—at the Free University of Tbilisi. By 2022, Georgia already hosted three Confucius Institutes, aiming to spread the Mandarin Chinese language in the country. In recent years, Georgia has established the Georgian-Chinese Center for Economic and Cultural Development and the Georgian-Chinese Friendship Association to facilitate China’s partnerships with local educational institutions. According to some reports, Chinese has been intensely taught in more than a dozen higher and secondary educational institutions across the country. China has offered scholarships to Georgian students to study Mandarin in China while bringing Chinese teachers to teach Chinese language, history, and culture on the ground in Georgia. As Western educational funds decrease for Georgian students, Beijing has increased investments in Chinese educational and cultural projects, cultivating an attractive educational environment for Georgian students both in Georgia and China. China has also made considerable efforts with the Georgian government to develop digital infrastructure across the country. Notwithstanding the fact that Georgia signed a memorandum of understanding with the United States in 2021 to curtail the expansion of Huawei into Georgia, Garibashvili’s recent visit and statement at Huawei’s headquarters confirmed Tbilisi’s growing interest in welcoming the deployment of Huawei’s 5G infrastructure in the country, marking a complete reversal of its course and commitment to Washington to develop 5G that is in line with Western standards.  The geopolitical significance of Georgia and the South Caucasus as a whole increased markedly since February 22, 2022, as Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine isolated Russia politically and economically in the West, diminishing its role for Beijing as a reliable partner and the most efficient trade route linking Europe to Asia and vice versa.

Published in
United States of America


Miro Popkhadze
Miro Popkhadze is a Fellow in the Eurasia Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.