The duel between the West and Russia for the Caucasus might just be becoming a truel. In its continued fervor to embrace China and attract Chinese hunger for global investment and exports, Georgia has launched talks on free trade with Beijing.
“Our main goal is to make the most prudent use of our strategic location,” said Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili on September 10 at the World Economic Forum in the Chinese city of Dalian, where the Georgian leader met his Chinese counterpart, Li Kepiang.
Dalian is on the ancient East-West trade route known as the Silk Road, which China is looking to bring back to life by investing in transportation and energy infrastructure along the way.
“Georgia is Europe’s natural gateway to Asia, as it is Europe’s eastern most [syc] point both by land and sea,” Gharibashvili elaborated in a September 10 op-ed in the English-language China Daily, seen as a Beijing mouthpiece.
In his commentary Gharibashvili went through the selling points for Georgia as a critical hub in the Chinese government’s transnational project for integrating Chinese and Eurasian trade and investment.
With its economy still struggling for a breather, Tbilisi hopes that Georgia’s investment-friendly tax policy and free-trade agreement with the European Union will encourage more Chinese business to provide a much-needed financial boost. Gharibashvili’s office said that Chinese officials will visit Tbilisi in mid-October for a Silk Road conference.
The event would be the second such get-together in nearly as many months. In late August, Tbilisi hosted a gathering of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, seen by some as a Chinese rival to the World Bank and the IMF. The 57-member bank picked its president, former Chinese Finance Minister Jin Liqun, in Tbilisi on August 25.
With its plans for Georgia, China is coming to a region aflush with complex, criss-crossing economic and geopolitical torrents. Georgia is potentially the first country in the South Caucasus to strike up free-trade relations with the world’s largest economy, while already having a free-trade deal concluded with the EU. Neighboring Armenia has tied itself to Russia by sharing a customs zone. Hydrocarbon-rich Azerbaijan alone claims that it shuns economic clubs.