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Between oil and construction... China is consolidating its presence in Iraq

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Between oil and construction... China is consolidating its presence in Iraq

Reports| 11:14 - 08/22/2022
Baghdad - Mawazine News

In Iraq, rich in oil and poor in infrastructure, China has found a foothold.

In addition to the work of its companies in the oil field, it is building schools and an airport in projects that this country needs, but it puts it in the face of the risk of falling into a debt trap with Beijing in a not so distant time.

The Chinese presence in Iraq is not new.

But Beijing has recently diversified and expanded its projects in this country that has suffered from wars and conflicts for more than forty years.

John Calabrese, director of the Middle East and Asia Project at the Middle East Institute, told AFP that

"Iraq is in dire need of foreign investment, especially in the field of energy infrastructure."

Here, China found an opportunity.

The People's Republic needs to secure its energy needs, diversify its sources, and become the first importer of Iraqi oil. It alone imports 44 percent of Iraq's oil exports, according to the Prime Minister's advisor, Mazhar Salih, to the Iraqi News Agency.

In the field of energy, "the situation is active," says Chinese Ambassador Cui Wei in response to a question by AFP at a press conference. But he adds,

"We are still in the stage of entering Iraq and cooperating with the Iraqi side, as well as with foreign companies operating in Iraq."

"In terms of the number and value of projects" in the energy field, Cui explains, "the Chinese side is still at the beginning stage."

John Calabrese believes that behind the clear commercial goals,

"there also lies China's ambition to showcase its work, polish its image and deeply entrench itself in a country and region dominated by the West, especially the United States" for a long time.

"Belt and Road"

In 2019, Iraq became one of China's partners in the "Belt and Road" initiative, with the two countries signing an agreement in this regard.

The "Belt and Road" initiative aims to build marine and land infrastructure projects that better connect China with Asia, Europe and Africa.

But the West sees it as a tool to enhance China's influence in poor countries, denouncing in particular the fact that these projects have accumulated large debts on those countries. Westerners also suspect corruption and human rights abuses.

A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry told AFP that

"China is actively participating in the reconstruction of the Iraqi economy," stressing that

Baghdad is an "important partner" in the "Belt and Road" initiative.

Within the framework of this initiative, Iraq "remained the third most important partner" of China in the energy sector "between 2013 and 2022."

For example, in the Maysan Governorate in southern Iraq, the Halfaya field is being developed with a consortium of companies led by the Chinese state-owned PetroChina, along with the French Total and Malaysia's Petronas, as the director of the Maysan Oil Company explained in a statement to the Iraqi News Agency.

As for the trade exchange between the two countries, it is booming and amounted to $30 billion in 2020, the Iraqi News Agency quoted an official at the Chinese embassy as saying.

Given the importance of infrastructure reconstruction, many projects undertaken by China in this field fall within the framework of the agreement signed between the two countries in 2019 under the title "Reconstruction for Oil".

Among these projects, a thousand schools and an airport in Nasiriyah.

In the city of Nasiriyah in southern Iraq, Power China is working on one of these schools.

It is one of two Chinese companies implementing a project to build eight thousand schools in total in three phases, and the first phase of it, which includes 1,000 schools in 15 Iraqi provinces, is underway.

Language lessons

These projects are financed by Iraq's sale of 100,000 barrels of oil per day to China, whose revenues are deposited in an account managed by the Central Bank of Iraq in China.

These proceeds can only be used in projects carried out by Chinese companies exclusively in Iraq.

Chinese companies should also work with local Iraqi contracting companies "to provide manpower and raw materials," as explained to AFP, spokesman for the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, Haider Majid.

Yasar Al-Maliki, an economist at the Middle East Economic Survey, considers providing job opportunities for Iraqi labor a "positive matter", but

"there are rumors that the majority of Iraqi companies are politically connected, and are unknown, so there are fears of corruption."

Majeed said there were plans to also include "roads, bridges, railways, energy, oil and health projects" in the agreement.  But al-Maliki warns that

"the Iraqi authorities use the agreement in useless projects, and end up with many debts, as is the case in many African countries."

China also attracts Iraqis who want to learn its language. From here, the Iraqi-Chinese Friendship Society established the only Chinese language institute in Iraq, with the exception of the Kurdistan region, less than a year ago.

On the study benches here are students wishing to complete their education in China, and merchants who import their goods from this country.

As for the teacher, Sajjad Al-Qazzaz, 25, he learned the language during the six years he studied medicine in China.

"When I came back to Iraq from China, I found that many people want to learn Chinese," says Al-Qazzaz.

The majority of the students are traders like Laith Ahmed. "I own a company that imports electrical appliances from China," the man says.  He added,

"I always go there and find it difficult to deal with the Chinese because most of them do not speak English, so I decided to learn Chinese to make it easier to communicate with them."
Ended 29 / h

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