The last few years have witnessed China actively promoting its Belt and Road Initiative(BRI) by wooing countries which can provide it an easy access to Europe. Interestingly, for most part of the last decade, Beijing is being seen building transport routes to Europe that bypass Russia. The South Caucasus region, acting as a link between the Middle East, China, Russia and Europe, has great strategic significance andChina has recognized this fact through BRI. To advance this initiative, Beijing has courted both Armenia and Azerbaijan. Hence, among the Chinese promoted overland routes is the one that crosses the Caspian sea from Kazakhstan to Azerbaijan and onward to Georgia, Turkey and ultimately Europe. While Azerbaijan is actively taking part in Chinese infrastructure connectivity projects, Armenia has also exhibited openness to China, as evident by the Memorandum it signed in 2015 on Promotion of Cooperation in Building the Silk Road Economic Belt. All along, Beijing has also called upon both countries to resolve their disputes through dialogue. The Russia assisted ceasefire to stop fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2020 included a provision allowing Azerbaijan to use a road through Armenian territory to access its Nakhchivan exclave. The corridor between Nakhchivan and Azerbaijan would offer Beijing a second route to Europe in the South Caucasusafter the one via Georgia. However, with the long-drawn Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict often leading to stalemates, China may be finding it tougher to go ahead without choosing sides. Recent allegations surrounding dubious Chinese actionsin the region serve as pointers to that dilemma.
Azerbaijan’s government is reportedly probing a secret military flight which originated from Macao (China) to reach Yerevan in Armenia. What seems to have irked Azerbaijan more is Pakistan’s alleged facilitation of the flight. It is believed that the military aircraft presumably carrying weapons for Armenia landed at Karachi Airport en route to Yerevan. Azerbaijan has apparently sought clarification from Islamabad on the issue through its Ambassador in Pakistan.Azerbaijan authorities suspect that the route was mainly chosen because of other routes being under their surveillance.
The assistance allegedly provided by Islamabad to the Chinese move is particularly shocking for Azerbaijan, which has long supported Pakistan even on contentious issue like Kashmir. Pakistan has assured to look into the issue and revert to Azerbaijan with the details. However, considering the un-equal relation Islamabad maintains with its ‘Iron brother’ China, Azerbaijan can hardly expect a meaningful reply from Islamabad.