Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and his visiting Armenian counterpart Hovik Abrahamian reportedly discussed China’s possible involvement in an ambitious project to build a railway connecting Armenia with Iran when they met in Beijing on Tuesday.
“The Chinese premier reaffirmed the Chinese side’s interest in the issue,” the Armenian government said in a statement. It said the two men discussed the matter “in detail” but did not elaborate.
The official Chinese Xinhua news agency made no specific mention of the Armenian-Iranian project in its report on the talks. “The Chinese government supports Chinese companies to participate in major infrastructure projects in Armenia, such as highways and nuclear power plants,” it quoted Li as telling Abrahamian.
Transport and Communications Minister Gagik Beglarian said last month that a Chinese company has presented Yerevan with “very good proposals” regarding the railway’s construction, which would cost an estimated $3 billion. Beglarian refused to disclose those proposals, saying only that Armenian and Chinese officials will hold substantive talks on them in September.
Abrahamian’s press office said over the weekend that while in Beijing the Armenian premier will meet not only with top Chinese government officials but also senior executives from the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC). The state-run corporation is engaged in railway construction in and outside China.
Another firm, China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), has already conducted a feasibility study on the railway project. The study was commissioned in 2013 by a Dubai-based investment company that had received a 30-year Armenian government concession to build and manage the 305-kilometer-long Armenian section of the railway.
President Serzh Sarkisian called for “active” Chinese involvement in the project’s implementation when he paid a state visit to China in March. The issue was on the agenda of Sarkisian’s talks with Li.
The planned railway would facilitate Armenia’s trade with not only Iran but also China. A large part of Chinese-Armenian trade, which reached nearly $600 million last year, is already carried out through Iran’s Persian Gulf ports.
According to the government statement, Abrahamian praised increased bilateral trade at the meeting with Li. The Chinese premier, for his part, was cited by Xinhua as expressing hope that the two nations will “cement mutual political trust” and “deepen pragmatic cooperation.”