There is perhaps no less comfortable place for a struggling democracy than the blurry space between the hardening frontiers of the liberal democratic West and an increasingly expansionist, militant Russia. For states like Georgia, well beyond NATO’s fortified border in a region where even neutrality is considered a lot cast for Moscow, taking a side is not so much a choice as it is a necessity for state survival. But the rapidly growing presence of China, for the first time, opens up the possibility of a Sino-Georgian third way just as local confidence in Western alignment hits new lows.
China’s interest in Georgia and the South Caucasus is neither new nor particularly unexpected. Though flying under the radar, Chinese investment has been rising in the region for at least several years, in search of investment opportunities and low-cost diplomatic dividends. But Beijing’s appreciation for the South Caucasus as a strategic region worthy of genuine attention is a more recent phenomenon, driven in large part by Beijing’s ambitious multi-billion dollar bet on the New Silk Road (NSR), for which Georgia and the South Caucasus are set to play a critical role. Though its location may be geopolitically unenviable, Georgia’s position as a connector state between the Eurasian interior and Europe has caught Chinese interest.