Chinese schools in Iraq.. This is how Beijing develops its influence through its soft power

In a classroom in Iraqi Kurdistan, the Chinese teacher “Ziwei Hu” gives a lecture to his students to teach them the Chinese alphabet, and resonates with his students in perfect fluent Chinese.

Hu, 52, teaches 14 Iraqi students with supervision from the Chinese Consulate in the Iraqi Kurdistan city of Erbil, where Beijing is building power plants, factories and water treatment facilities, as well as much-needed schools across the country, according to a report published by The Associated Press. (The Associated Press) A few days ago.

His class is part of the experience of opening a pilot branch to learn the Chinese language (Mandarin) at Salahaddin University in Erbil Governorate, Kurdistan, Iraq. in the region.

“I wanted to learn Chinese because I know that China will have the upper hand in the future,” says 20-year-old student Regin Yassin. “China is going to expand here, which is why I chose it.”

At the language school, Zia Sherzad has just completed the oral exam. The 21-year-old said he was always thinking about what to do next. “The most important thing is how I can serve my people. If I know Chinese, it will help in the future and in everything,” he added.

Incorporation details

In 2017, the Chinese Consulate in Erbil contacted the Faculty of Languages ​​at Salahaddin University to offer the idea of ​​establishing the Chinese Language Department.

Dean of the college, Atef Abdullah Farhadi, said that the university was not sure at first that the idea would appeal to students, or that it would find qualified instructors to teach the language.

So Farhadi asked the consulate to provide and pay for teachers, textbooks, an audio lab, other classroom technologies, and exchange opportunities in Beijing.

“They have fulfilled all the demands,” Farhadi said. The department opened in 2019, and the first batch of it is scheduled to graduate next year, adding, “After that, we will expand.”

Farhadi wishes the same could happen in the English department; But he said the US and British consulates rarely offer help, “they don’t support us at all”.

soft power review

Iraqi researcher Sardar Aziz said in an interview with the Associated Press that teaching Mandarin is a display of Chinese soft power to introduce the region to China. “The population’s attraction to Chinese goods has increased,” he said.

Chinese companies dominate the main economic sector in Iraq, and Beijing imports 40% of Iraq’s exports of crude oil.

With a narrow focus on the hydrocarbon sector, Chinese investment has grown to include other industries, finance, transportation, construction and communications.

The shift came after Chinese President Xi Jinping announced in 2013 the ambitious Belt Initiative, dubbed the New Silk Road. This initiative consists of a wide range of development and investment projects from East Asia through the Middle East to Europe. This initiative is considered troubling by the United States, which sees it as a “Trojan horse” for Chinese expansion.

The Chinese initiative involves developing relations with countries along its path through political coordination, infrastructure connectivity, and trade and financial integration.

The Associated Press report pointed to the increasing interest of Iraqi Kurds in learning the Chinese language, and said that Beijing is counting on teaching them its language to support its investments there in the long run.

The war-torn Iraqi city of Ramadi is witnessing an investment boom, and China’s interests in Iraq are expanding, especially in the energy sector.

Dozens of contracts signed in recent years ensure China’s growing presence, even as major Western companies – including the United States – plan to get out of there.

“While Iraqi officials say they want a larger American presence, they find it attractive in China’s offer of development without conditions for democracy or reform,” the agency’s report says.

As China grows its economic footprint, Western oil companies are working to reduce their influence. Many expressed their dissatisfaction with Iraq’s precarious investment environment and unfavorable contract terms.

And Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar Ismail told the Associated Press – earlier – that the exit of the giant American oil company ExxonMobil from the West Qurna 1 field last year came despite Iraqi appeals to stay. Then he continued, “The presence of a major American company in Iraq has always been a reassurance for other companies.”

BP plans to distribute its business with another partner entity with the China National Petroleum Corporation. Other oil companies – including Russia’s Lukoil – are demanding amendments to the terms of the contract as a condition of survival.

“In between, Chinese companies dominate oil contracts, and continue to earn more,” says the Associated Press report.

It is reported that representatives of Chinese companies meet with students under the pretext of practicing language skills, but most of them end up with promises of future employment.

“We speak in Chinese and we talk about business and the future, they come to meet us and make a call,” said one of the students, Hewar al-Saadi.

The lessons cover the cultural and historical aspects of China as well. Teacher Hu is always quick to remind students of the two countries’ shared golden past. Iraq was part of the ancient trade route of the Silk Road, which connected the Han Dynasty of China with the West.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.