An Iraqi businessman selects watches at a store in Yiwu, Zhejiang Province, on January 15, 2016 (XINHUA)
In a recent interview with Xinhua News Agency, Ahmad Berwari, Iraqi Ambassador to China, shared his views on the development of China-Iraq relations. He said his country is anticipating new opportunities from its active participation in the China-proposed Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road (Belt and Road) Initiative. An edited excerpt of the interview follows:
Xinhua: How do you see China-Iraq relations?
Ahmad Berwari: China and Iraq have been friends for a long time. Our mutual understanding has stood the test of wars and difficult times. When Iraq was going through domestic turbulence, China was there, ready to offer us a helping hand, especially after [the second Gulf War in] 2003.
Apart from mutual political trust, our bilateral economic activities are very dynamic. China is the largest importer of Iraqi oil. Many Chinese enterprises have made investments and started businesses in Iraq, helping us rebuild the infrastructure destroyed by war and sanctions [imposed by the UN after the first Gulf War in 1991].
Both Iraq and China are ancient civilizations with long histories. Cultural exchanges between the two therefore are of equal importance to political and economic ones. Both countries are rich in culture. Such richness, however, may lead to differences in how we see the world, how we solve the world's problems and what we expect the world to be. But still, Iraq values its long-standing friendship with China and wishes it could develop further.
As you've mentioned, China has been helping Iraq rebuild its infrastructure in energy, power, transportation and many other fields. Could you give us some concrete examples?
In the 1970s, before the outbreak of the Iraq-Iran War, Iraq, with abundant natural and cultural resources, was able to provide loans and assistance to other countries. But due to frequent wars and war-related international sanctions in the past three decades, Iraq turned into a politically isolated nation with heavy debt. Our entire infrastructure was destroyed. Our people lived under the UN poverty line. The situation got even worse in the year 2003. Despite the difficulties, we plan to rebuild our facilities, especially those for oil and gas production. Iraq is a major oil exporter in the world. Oil is our most important commodity as it accounts for 90 percent of our exports. Reconstruction is now in progress and we need China's support. China is our largest oil importer. In the face of economic difficulties at home, Iraq cannot accomplish its reconstruction on its own. We welcome Chinese companies to invest in our oil infrastructure construction.
Since 2003, Iraq has been short of power supply. Much as the government has done, we still fail to meet demands for electricity. Chinese companies have provided us huge help in building power plants and power grids. They have also made great contributions in the construction of roads, bridges and houses in Iraq. Now Iraq is short of 2 million apartments, which would be a good opportunity for Chinese investors. We welcome them with open arms and will facilitate their investment. Iraq benefits a lot from China-Iraq relations as we have learnt much from economic, educational and medical care development in China.
Cars of the Chinese brand Lifan, which were assembled from knocked-down kits imported from China, roll out of a production line at a factory in Iraq on March 4, 2014 (XINHUA)
Does it mean that the Iraqi market is fully open to Chinese investors?
Yes. Before 2003, Iraq had only political relations with certain countries. China was one of our important economic partners. After 2003, tremendous changes took place in Iraq. Many countries, especially the United States and European countries, are looking for opportunities in infrastructure reconstruction in Iraq. As I have said, we have a myriad of investment and employment opportunities. Although Iraq has not recovered from war yet, we are still rich in natural and human resources. Companies operating in Iraq will undoubtedly benefit from this. Stiff competition is to be expected. But that is not to say that China will lose opportunities. We have relevant policies to maintain long-term economic partnerships with countries like China. Also, we wish to maintain balanced relations with all countries.
China and Iraq have maintained a sound strategic relationship. China is capable of helping Iraq. So we will create premium opportunities for Chinese companies in Iraq. The Iraqi Government prioritizes companies that made great contributions to our country during the 1970s and 1980s. Chinese companies will enjoy equal treatment. Our cooperation with Chinese companies has been productive. Their projects have all reaped good results.
In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping put forward the Belt and Road Initiative. What role do you think it will play in facilitating China-Iraq relations and stability in the Middle East?
We are happy to participate in the Belt and Road Initiative. First, Iraq has a strategic role to play in the Silk Road. Second, Iraq is rich in energy resources. Third, Iraq is culturally connected with countries along the Silk Road. Last, Iraq is a country with thousands of years of history. All this enables Iraq to be an important part of the initiative.
China has proposed the initiative in hopes of strengthening the ties of countries along the Belt and Road through friendly and development-based approaches. This is beneficial to peace in the world, particularly in the Middle East.
All the countries that take part in this initiative are economically connected. If the leaders of these countries are wise enough, they will make full use of the huge opportunities arising from the initiative and strengthen their bonds with other countries. Iraq attaches great importance to the initiative. As a country located in the Middle East, we will be more motivated to implement the initiative and promote the shared interests of countries along the Belt and Road.
The annual sessions of the National People's Congress, China's top legislature, and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the national political advisory body, are a window to the country's development. What topics attracted your attention most this year?
As you have said, not only Iraq but the world at large follows these big events. China, the second largest economy in the world, is playing a more important role in the international arena. China is our largest partner in oil-related trade, investment and employment creation. So we are eager to learn what steps China will take to develop its economy. We have no doubt that each and every move made by China will bring positive effects to its economic partners like Iraq.
This year, I was impressed by China's commitment to further opening up and its support to projects under the Belt and Road Initiative. We will learn from China's experience how to address our common challenges, such as the migration of rural residents to urban areas and the balanced development of all regions. Iraq is a federal country with many provinces and a Kurdistan autonomous region in the north. Their development is not balanced either. As such, politicians and researchers in Iraq also followed the sessions with their own focuses and interests.
Copyedited by Bryan Michael Galvan
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