In northern Iraq, a Chinese language school projects soft power

Dozens of contracts signed in recent years ensure China’s growing footprint, even as major Western companies, including the United States, prepare to exit. While Iraqi officials say they want a bigger US presence, they find appeal in China’s development offer with no strings attached to democracy or reform and its skillful diplomacy.

“The language school is a projection of Chinese soft power, to familiarize the region with China. The more familiar they are, the more they will be attracted to Chinese products,” said Sardar Aziz, a researcher who recently wrote a book in Kurdish on Sino-Iraqi relations.

Chinese companies dominate Iraq’s key economic sector, oil, and Beijing consumes 40% of Iraq’s crude oil exports. But from a narrow focus on hydrocarbons, Chinese investments have grown to include other industries, finance, transport, construction and communications.

This change was spurred following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s announcement in 2013 of the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, dubbed the New Silk Road, comprised of a wide range of initiatives of development and investment from East Asia to the Middle East to Europe. The United States views it as troubling, akin to a Trojan horse for Chinese expansion.

The initiative calls on China to develop its relations with states along its journey through political coordination, infrastructure connectivity, trade and financial integration and people-to-people ties.

Sylvester L. Goldfarb