The Near trillion dollar Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) is China’s Global Project spanning the entire Eurasian Continent.
Beyond the fact that the initiative intends a fundamental reconfiguration of the super continent’s critical infrastructure such as railways, roads and ports, the BRI also represents a fundamental ideological departure from common western economic and state building ideas.
Based in Chinese Tianxia, roughly translated as ‘togetherness’, the BRI offers a new set of modes of state-to-state relations. Never before, perhaps except for the first decades of the Soviet state in 1920-1950, has the West faced a challenge on a such a monumental scale, involving economic and ideological components.
Though many tend to believe that by 2049, the centennial of the establishment of China’s communist state, the country will be dominating the world, I would nevertheless like to discard those extreme forecasts and focus more on realistic approaches to the future balance of power in the world.
Perhaps, two approaches are most likely to unfold in the coming decades. First is China’s rise to at least the same level of influence as the US or collective West, economically and militarily.
Both China and the US are powerful enough not to fundamentally outstrip each other. It is likely that we will see south-eastern Asia under large Chinese influence. Other states too, such as Pakistan, could be closely related to China.
But considering the nature of Tianxia, the Chinese model of doing business, and the general attitude to foreign relations, it is more likely that in the coming decades, Beijing’s economic and cultural influence will be strongly anchored in China’s immediate neighbourhood.
This does not, however, exclude Beijing from enjoying close relations with far-flung states, be they in Europe, Africa or the Middle East. However, those relations will be more based on economic benefits than cultural closeness.
Middle Eastern or European states will still be struggling to receive new Chinese models of state-to-state relations propagated through the BRI.
In many ways, we are still not living in a decisive moment in the Eurasian history. This threshold will come later on when China will grow to a bigger economic and military position & a strategic decision will have to be made in Beijing on how to continue with the country’s worldwide ambitions: to pursue with the traditional ‘Tianxia’ or remodel/adjust its worldview to fit it better into the universal agenda where most of world big or small states could benefit from.
Therefore, the coming two decades are likely to see a further rise in Chinese power, not to the world’s dominant state status, but rather the country reaching a clear dominance over its immediate neighbourhood, the region most closely related to Chinese culture.
The real challenge for China is implementing the successful export of the Chinese model of state building and state-to-state relations to the Middle East and European states.
In the coming decades, the South Caucasus as a region will see the Eurasian continent more subdivided into various spheres of influence, among which, as argued above, a prominent place will be held by China.
Each of the South Caucasus States (Georgia, Azerbaijan & Armenia) have a different geopolitical trajectory, but all three nevertheless are unlikely to fall under full Chinese Economic or Political Influence.
Armenia’s close relations with Russia, Georgia’s pro-western stance and the US’ political clout in the country, Azerbaijan’s willingness to pursue a more or less independent foreign policy: these geopolitical circumstances/imperatives would hamper any definitive Chinese economic or political influence in the region.
However, this will depend largely on the trajectory China takes in pursuing its ambitions through the BRI: will it try to make itself as universal as possible to the wider audience in Eurasia, irrespective of the region and the level of economic development.
Overall, regardless what scenario we have, it is likely that the Chinese economic presence in the South Caucasus is likely to be more tangible.