YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—China officially launched the construction of a new and much bigger building for its embassy in Armenia on Wednesday in what a senior Chinese diplomat described as another sign of deepening relations between the two nations.
Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian, Yerevan’s Mayor Taron Markarian and China’s visiting Assistant Foreign Minister Li Huilai broke ground on the site of the 40,000-square-meter embassy compound that should be completed by the end of 2019. Officials said that it will be the second largest Chinese diplomatic mission in the former Soviet Union.
“This is a great and joyful event,” the Chinese ambassador in Yerevan, Tian Erlong, told reporters at the ground-breaking ceremony. “The Chinese Embassy in Armenia will have a new building in Armenia.”
“China will be better represented in this country. This is logical because the scale and nature of our cooperation are rapidly developing, and this obviously requires more efforts, more human resources and, therefore, a larger building,” he said.
Meeting with Nalbandian earlier in the day, Li reportedly said Beijing would like to “further deepen the dynamically deepening partnership with Armenia.” “The unprecedentedly high-level relationship and friendship between China and Armenia are based on sincerity and mutual respect,” the Armenian Foreign Ministry quoted him as saying.
According to a ministry statement, Nalbandian told Li that close relations with China are one of Yerevan’s foreign policy priorities.
The statement added that the two men discussed efforts to boost bilateral commerce and the situation in the region. Nalbandian was reported to praise China’s “balanced position” on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Armenian counterpart Serzh Sarkisian agreed to deepen ties between their nations when then they met in Beijing in 2015. In a joint statement, they noted “mutual understanding on issues relating to pivotal interests and concerns of the two countries.”
According to Armenian government data, Chinese-Armenian trade rose by 35 percent to $243 million in the first half of this year, making China Armenia’s third largest trading partner after Russia and the European Union.
China also seems interested in stepping up military cooperation with Armenia. A top Chinese military official, Rear Admiral Guan Youfei, visited Yerevan in April, holding talks with Defense Minister Vigen Sargsyan and the chief of the Armenian army’s General Staff, General Movses Hakobyan. The Armenian Defense Ministry said they reached “agreements on expanding cooperation and implementing a number of mutually beneficial projects in the area of defense.”