Chinese Dream and Georgian Dream Match as Countries Establish Strategic Partnership
During Georgian PM Garibashvili’s visit to China from 26 July to 1 August, the two countries governments established a strategic partnership. While this has many benefits for the Georgian economy, it has left some wondering what this means for Georgia’s relationship with the West.
In 2011, Georgian tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili established the political movement "Georgian Dream" to compete with the United National Movement in the 2012 elections. He emphasized the goal of achieving a united, strong, and fair Georgia together. Meanwhile, in 2013, newly elected Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke about striving to achieve the Chinese dream of great rejuvenation for the Chinese nation.
A decade after these statements, the Georgian and Chinese governments aligned their expectations and established a strategic partnership during Georgian Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili's visit to China from 26 July to 1 August. The visit coincided with Garibashvili’s attendance at the 31st World Summer Games of the International University Sports Federation (FISU) in Chengdu. During the visit, PM Garibashvili held meetings with President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Qian of the People's Republic of China. Following the negotiations, it was announced that the two parties had decided to elevate their bilateral relations to the level of strategic partnership. The details of this deal were published in a joint statement on Government of Georgia’s website.
One notable aspect of the agreement is the inclusion of a commitment to respecting the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and freedom of all countries. However, it states that Georgia firmly supports the ] "One China" principle, without a specific stipulation about Georgia's territorial integrity. This absence does not necessarily imply that Xi Jinping's administration does not recognize Georgia's territorial integrity, as the Chinese Government supports a so-called non-recognition policy. Nonetheless, given that the agreement is signed by equal parties, it is logical to mention both of them in the document.
The strategic partnership with China is perceived as a positive development for Georgia, as it is expected to bolster the country's economy and contribute to its longstanding aim of establishing a transportation and logistics hub. The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine has further emphasized the significance of the Middle Corridor, as the Northern Corridor has practically been closed off. Consequently, there has been a notable increase in cargo turnover in the Georgian corridor, rising by 20.5% in 2022 compared to 2021. Cargo transportation between Georgia and China has also grown by 8.3% during the same period and is anticipated to further increase this year. In the first quarter of 2023, cargo turnover in Georgian ports, which handles 31% of the total cargo entering the country, has surged by 46% compared to the same period the previous year.
Trade with China has steadily increased since the establishment of the Free Trade Agreement in 2018. Total trade turnover has risen by almost 100% from 2017 to 2022, and China now ranks as Georgia's third-largest trade partner after Türkiye and Russia respectively. China has become Georgia's top export partner, with export numbers increasing by 265% in the last year, and the third-largest import partner, with import figures rising by 53%. Additionally, Georgian wine is gaining popularity and recognition in China. Previously sold in specialized alcohol shops, it is also becoming available in small and network supermarkets.
However, in the realm of economic development and cooperation with China, Georgia faces significant challenges. One example is China's Go Out Policy, touted as a win-win strategy, as developing countries receive Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and China gains access to valuable resources. However, scholars of Security and International Relations have criticized this policy, as its true motivations remain unclear, and there are concerns that China may be seeking to reshape the existing international order. Strong international support is crucial for Georgia, which already grapples with challenges from an aggressor country in the north, occupying and recognizing 20% of its territories as independent countries. The success of the non-recognition policy depends on utilizing the international law and order that has been developed since the end of World War II and maintained after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Any unexpected changes to this established system could further jeopardize Georgia's national security.
Meanwhile, tensions between the West and China have escalated, with Xi Jinping introducing three additional policies after the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)—the Global Development Initiative (GDI), the Global Security Initiative (GSI), and the Global Civilization Initiative (GCI), all of which Georgia has expressed support for, according to the joint statement.
In 2022, during the Madrid Summit, NATO adopted a Strategic Concept that, for the first time, identified China as a strategic challenge. The concept pointed out China's stated ambitions and coercive policies, which challenge to NATO's interests, security, and values. China seeks to control key technological and industrial sectors, critical infrastructure, strategic materials, and supply chains. Furthermore, it utilizes its economic leverage to create strategic dependencies and enhance its influence while attempting to subvert the rules-based international order, particularly in the domains of space, cyber, and maritime. Additionally, the deepening strategic partnership between China and Russia, with their attempts to undermine the rules-based international order, conflicts with NATO's values and interests.
The Vilnius NATO Summit Communiqué held this year reaffirms NATO's stance from the previous year and acknowledges the alliance's willingness to engage in constructive dialogues with China. The goal is to foster reciprocal transparency and safeguard NATO's security interests. The document also highlights that NATO faces challenges from cyber, space, hybrid, and other asymmetric threats, and the malevolent use of emerging and disruptive technologies.
The 2022 US National Security Strategy identifies China as the sole competitor with both the intent and the increasing economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to reshape the international order. China is leveraging its technological capacity and influence over international institutions to create favourable conditions for its authoritarian model and to shape global technology use and norms that prioritize its own interests and values.
Since 2009, the United States and Georgia have been strategic partners, and they have signed a charter to assist Georgia with NATO integration and support its territorial integrity. Additionally, Article 78 of the Constitution of Georgia underscores the commitment of constitutional bodies to take all measures within their competencies to ensure Georgia's full integration into the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Establishment a strategic partnership with China does not necessarily indicate that Georgia rejects the longstanding idea of joining NATO and the European Union. However, it is evident that Western democracies are actively supporting Ukraine in its struggle against Russia, providing essential military equipment and financial assistance to this aspiring EU nation. Meanwhile, the crucial question raises which country will step in to fill the void left after Russia's potential defeat, and how a new security architecture will be organized for the Western democracies.
As rising global power, China is likely to seize the opportunity to enhance its position and influence in the international arena. As Russia's position potentially weakens, China may seek to assert itself as a new superpower, leading to significant shifts in the geopolitical landscape.
Amidst these developments, the rhetoric of Georgian Dream, the political movement in Georgia, towards its Western partners, has been growing increasingly assertive. At times, Georgian, US, and European politicians engage in verbal confrontations through social media, indicating tensions and disagreements.
A noteworthy concern arises from the fact that, for the first time in many years, the head of the Government of Georgia did not attend the NATO Summit. When considering these factors collectively, it is reasonable to question whether the Georgian Dream is deliberately distancing itself from the European Union and NATO, particularly the latter. This potential distancing raises valid concerns regarding the establishment of a strategic partnership with China and its implications for Georgia's alignment with Western values and interests.