It is very important for Georgia to have “strong ties” with China, Georgian PM Irakli Garibashvili said on September 9 while speaking at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in the Chinese northeastern port city of Dalian.
He also said that increasing role of a “huge player” such as China in the region “creates balance.”
“We have a great relationship with China; we are developing strong ties… It is of great importance for us to have strong ties with this country,” he said at a panel discussion on the New Silk Road.
PM Garibashvili, who will meet Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on September 10, said Georgia’s is “very much supportive” of China’s “visionary initiative” of One Belt, One Road plan to rebuild Silk Road trade links and develop infrastructure along the route.
“Georgia with its strategic location can play a very significant role… Georgia has proved over the past twenty years that we are a reliable transit country… and we want to transform our country into a logistics hub,” Garibashvili said, pointing out at the importance of planned deep-sea port project in Anaklia on Georgia’s Black Sea coast.
“We want to launch free trade with China. I will have a meeting with China’s premier tomorrow and we will discuss opportunities that exist in our region,” he added.
Georgia and China agreed in March to launch feasibility study of possible bilateral free trade agreement between the two countries.
PM Garibashvili also said that Georgia “fully supports” the launch of the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). A two-day meeting of officials from the founding members of the AIIB was held in Tbilisi last month.
“I am sure this bank will be very successful for the region. I strongly believe that there is a strong potential in this region,” PM Garibashvili said.
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Asked by a moderator of the panel discussion about geopolitical aspects in terms of U.S., Russia and China’s interests in the region, the PM responded: "We want to make our country the place of understanding, place of negotiations, that’s why I am saying that we want to transform our country into a hub where Chinese, Americans or other countries and companies are investing; that will be beneficial for everyone.”
“If you look at the map, Georgia’s location – that’s a crossroad, the shortest route between Asia and Europe, so we should be very flexible,” the Georgian PM said.
“We have this political vector – we want to get closer to the EU, that’s why we have signed the Association Agreement [with the European Union], but that does not limit us to work to develop strong economic ties with Asia, and to have pragmatic ties, strong economic trade relations with Russia. If you look at our policy – the policy of new government, which I represent, we have been very pragmatic with respect to neighborhood, especially with Russia and when I say we are pragmatic, we fully understand responsibility of Georgia in the region, because if Georgia is destabilized, it destabilizes the whole region, the Caucasus region and the corridor we are talking about. Therefore it is essential to agree on one thing, that we need stability,” he said.
Asked if he thinks that strong economic ties with China can be more valuable, compared to those with the U.S. and the EU, in terms of managing relations with Russia, the Georgian PM responded: “We can find many mutually beneficial interests… This will help to de-escalate tensions, de-politicize – if you build a port, if you have a Chinese company, it opens up new opportunities, we have a huge player in the region [China] and it kind of creates a balance.”
In Dalian, the PM visited Chinese state-owned locomotives manufacturer Dalian Locomotive and Rolling Stock Co (DLoco), where a memorandum of understanding was signed between DLoco and Georgian railway carriage builder VMK on possible joint venture in Georgia to produce locomotives.
The Georgian PM also met Mongolia’s PM Saikhanbileg Chimed on the sideline of the forum in Dalian on September 9.
In China the PM is accompanied by Foreign Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili; Economy Minister Dimitri Kumsishvili; head of Adjara Autonomous Republic’s government Archil Khabadze; CEO of the state-owned Georgian Railway Mamuka Bakhtadze; head of the National Investment Agency Giorgi Pertaia; head of the private Co-Investment Fund Giorgi Bachiashvili, as well as GD parliamentary majority leader Davit Saganelidze and vice-speaker of the Parliament, GD MP Gubaz Sanikidze.