New Silk Road: Baghdad and Beijing boost bilateral relations
Iraq’s prime minister approves a new development plan during a five-day visit to China. Mahdi says Iraq is "grateful" for China’s "valuable support" in the country’s reconstruction. Xi Jinping praises the "China-Iraq strategic partnership". In 2018 bilateral trade topped US$ 30 billion. A Chinese library is set to open at Baghdad University.
Baghdad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi announced plans for Iraq to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), more commonly know as the ‘New Silk Road, in order to revive the country’s economy and boost reconstruction projects after years of Jihadi wars and devastation, this despite Western efforts to hold back Beijing’s plans.
The announcement came at the end of a visit to yhe People’s Republic in which Abdul-Mahdi headed a delegation of government ministers and provincial governors. During his stay, the prime minister oversaw the signing of eight broad-ranging agreements aimed at diversifying political and trading ties between the two countries.
On the fifth day of the visit, the Iraqi PM met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and the head of the State Council Li Keqiang. In the meeting, the two sides signed agreements in a variety of fields, including finance, trade, security, construction, communications, culture, education, and foreign affairs,
"Iraq has gone through war and civil strife and is grateful to China for its valuable support," Mahdi said, in comments broadcast on Chinese state media outlet CCTV. "Iraq is willing to work together in the 'One Belt, One Road' framework," he added.
In his appreciative response, Xi noted that "China would like, from a new starting point together with Iraq, to push forward the China-Iraq strategic partnership".
BRI, aka the New Silk Road, is an attempt by China to get as many countries as possible involved in the construction of communications and trading infrastructures worth a US$ 1 trillion, using mostly Chinese capital.
In many capitals, this has set alarm bells because it is seen as a Chinese attempt at global domination and aimed only at acquiring advantages for China. For countries like Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Pakistan and the Philippines, this is seen as a debt trap, to Chinese loans.
However, the New Silk Road fits in with long-standing relations between Baghdad and Beijing. Trade last year between the two topped US$ 30 billion, growing at about 10 per cent per year. China is Iraq’s main trading partner, whilst Iraq is China’s second most important oil supplier.
The US invasion in 2003 to depose the then-dictator Saddam Hussein, the subsequent years of internal conflicts, Jihadi devastations and the rise of the Islamic State group in 2014 caused enormous disasters. Much needs to be done to rebuild the Mideast country.
“We belong to Asia, and we want to be part of its rise,” Iraq’s Prime Minister said in Shanghai on Saturday. For him, the visit to China would bring “positive results” and Iraq will start “a speedy reconstruction of infrastructure” once he gets back home.
Beijing plans to expand relations that until now were limited to oil exports and manufactured goods imports.
China’s engagement would extend to electricity, water purification, construction of schools, hospitals, housing units, as well as transportation-related projects. Chinese companies would focus on services “urgently needed” by the local population.
Sino-Iraqi cooperation is set to include culture. The two sides signed a cultural cooperation memorandum of understanding, whilst a Chinese library is set to open in Iraq’s Baghdad University,