China is building a new embassy in Yerevan which, once completed, will be the second largest embassy in the former Soviet Union. The project is another sign of China’s growing economic and diplomatic roles in Armenia.
The inauguration ceremony on 9 August was attended by Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian and Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Li Huilai. The building is expected to be completed in 2019 and measures 40000 square meters. “Relationships are developing rapidly and, of course, more effort and staff are needed, and also a large building,” said Tian Erlong, China’s ambassador to Yerevan at the ceremony.
“It is obviously the desire of this country [China] to step up its policy in the region,” said the Deputy Foreign Minister of Armenia Shavarsh Kocharyanaux journalists.
As China expands its influence in the world, Armenian officials argue that their relatively multidirectional foreign policy gives Yerevan the advantage of getting Beijing’s attention. “Armenia is attractive to China because not only is it a strategic partner of Russia but it also has a very good relationship with the European Union, with which we will soon sign a new agreement,” said Karen Bekaryan, a member of the Republican Party of Armenia. “Armenia has traditionally warm relations with the United States, has traditionally good relations with the Arab world. “
Armenia is seeking to become a privileged diplomatic partner of China in the region. “China is attracted by Armenia to develop its diplomacy … which is impossible for China in Georgia” because of the strongly pro-Western orientation of the latter, said Gor Sarkisyan, national director of Institute of Management of the Chinese government Confucius, in an interview granted to EurasiaNet. org. “China has enormous commercial interests in Georgia, but Tbilisi is not as attractive as a political partner. “
Armenia’s rapprochement with China began with President Serzh Sargsyan’s visit to Beijing in 2015, when the two sides signed a declaration of “friendly cooperation”, as well as agreements on economic relations, political and military.
China has invested massively in the iron mines in Armenia, and trade between the two countries is growing rapidly, although the turnover is still less than with neighboring Azerbaijan and Georgia. For Armenia, China in 2015 is ranked just behind Russia on the list of partner countries in terms of import / export.
In 2016, Armenia became a “dialogue partner” with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Officials in Yerevan hope that this status will improve Armenia’s chances of becoming a hub of China’s ambitious road infrastructure program called the “belt”. A Chinese company is currently conducting a feasibility study for the construction of the long-established Armenian section of the Tehran-Yerevan Railway. The project has an estimated cost of up to $ 5 billion, said Sergey Manasaryan, Ambassador of Armenia to China, in an interview with the EADaily website.
The lion’s share of Armenia’s exports to China is concentrated in copper, and thus “there is practically no real trade,” Serguey Manasaryan said. But another Chinese company is conducting a feasibility study to build a $ 500 million copper smelter in Armenia, he said, “God willing, it will be finished this year.”
One of the factors currently hampering the development of closer relations with China is a lack of Sinophones in Armenia. But it is beginning to change.
At the Confucius Institute, the number of students in Chinese language courses rose from 120 in 2014 to more than 300 last year, said Sarkissian. Meanwhile, the Department of International Relations began offering Chinese language courses three years ago and the school now has 45 potential diplomats who are learning Chinese, said Arthur Israelyan, head of China ‘ Yerevan State University.
In addition, the Chinese and Armenian governments jointly build a school for Chinese language studies: construction began in 2014 and installation is planned for next year. It will accommodate up to 650 pupils and will be the largest training center for teaching Chinese in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. It will educate Armenian students from the fifth year, as well as during summer programs for students from neighboring countries.
“Learning Chinese has become a matter of prestige in Armenia,” said Izabella Muradyan, director of the Chinese Center for Science and Culture in Yerevan at EurasiaNet.org. “The growing number of Armenian people, and especially young people, learning Chinese is pragmatic: the Armenian political and economic elite understands that it is beneficial for them to cooperate with China. “