The diverse relations between China and Azerbaijan, which have intensified in recent years, are expected to enter a new phase within the Belt and Road Initiative.

Cooperation in the trade, economic and humanitarian fields is an important part of Chinese-Azerbaijani relations, Ambassador of China to Azerbaijan Wei Jinghua told Trend.

In his words, China is the third largest trading partner of Azerbaijan, holding the third position in Azerbaijani exports and the fourth in imports.

The ambassador noted that the trade turnover between China and Azerbaijan reached a record level of $1.31 billion in 2018. In the first four months of this year, the bilateral trade amounted to $932 million, or 188.54 percent compared to the same period last year.

Currently, over 20 Chinese enterprises, engaged in energy, construction, information and communications, aviation, transport logistics, retail trade, restaurant business etc, operate in Azerbaijan, he said. Chinese enterprises invested $800 million in Azerbaijani economy, while counter investments amounted to about $8 million.

Wei Jinghua also stressed that Chinese enterprises are ready to take an active part in the development of Azerbaijan’s economy.

Touching upon the role of Belt and Road Initiative in the relations between China and Azerbaijan, the ambassador underlined that the two countries have their own advantages in the process of the implementation of the project, which complements bilateral cooperation.

“At present, China and Azerbaijan are making efforts to align the national development strategy of Azerbaijan with Belt and Road Initiative to expand the range of cooperation,” he said.

Jinghua went on to note that China attaches great importance to the geographical advantage of Azerbaijan as an important transport centre between Europe and Asia, and supports the simplification of transport opportunities in the region.

“We will actively explore the possibilities of container cargo transportation by the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, and promote active cooperation of Chinese enterprises with the Azerbaijani side in the field of international transport and logistics,” the ambassador added.

He said that Beijing is ready to cooperate with Baku to discuss further simplification of the use of Trans-Caspian sea transport routes and reduction of transport costs in order to increase the level of interconnection and create more favourable conditions between the countries along the entire route from China to Azerbaijan.

Referring to the cooperation in tourism, Jinghua pointed to the importance of the signing of the memorandum of understanding on the simplification of group trips of Chinese tourists to Azerbaijan in March this year, which laid a legal base for expanding cooperation in this area.

Jinghua further added that in the first four months of this year, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Azerbaijan increased by 60 percent.

“We invite the Azerbaijani side to present the potential of Azerbaijan’s tourism in China, fully use the cultural and historical heritage of the Silk Road, cooperate with neighbouring friendly countries in creating a special tourist route along it,” said the ambassador.

“We have reason to believe that the number of tourists from China to Azerbaijan and from Azerbaijan to China will increase significantly through joint efforts of both sides.”

Azerbaijan is China’s key trade partner in the South Caucasus region. The country is going to implement new projects together with the Chinese companies in view of the recently signed contracts worth $821 million covering many fields.

The documents were signed the sidelines of the second Belt and Road International Forum in April this year.

Azerbaijan is one of the first countries that supported the Belt and Road project and is one of the active participants in its implementation. Azerbaijan became a signatory to the Belt and Road Energy Partnership Declaration in October 2018.

China announced the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, aimed at creating infrastructure and establishing links among the Eurasian countries back.

This Chinese strategy envisages two key areas of development: the economic belt of the Silk Road and the maritime Silk Road. It is related to the creation of trade corridor for direct deliveries of goods from East to West on preferential terms.

Successful transport projects implemented by Azerbaijan, such as Baku-Tbilisi-Kars, South-North, Alat International Sea Trade Port, have considerably contributed to the Belt and Road Initiative.