Erbil and Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrived in Baghdad on Sunday to discuss bilateral relations and the sale of Chinese weapons to Iraq, only three days after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited the country also partly to discuss arms sales.
Both visits come as the Iraqi army struggles to contain insurgents in the volatile Sunni-dominated Anbar province, where it has sought the help of local tribal factions, some of whom have chosen to side against the government forces.
In a news conference with his Chinese counterpart, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the two discussed a number of issues including the purchase of Chinese arms.
Zebari added that discussions also included the “Syrian crisis, the Iranian nuclear issue and the Palestinian issue, as well as the growing economic and trade relations between Iraq and China, with China today being Iraq’s biggest trading partner and the largest investor in the Iraqi oil and electricity sectors.”
He added: “There is also political and diplomatic cooperation between the two countries, and Iraq and China have remained on a similar policy which has not changed . . . this visit will open new possibilities in the future and we have agreed to activate the proposals of the Chinese–Iraqi joint ministerial committee.”
On the Syrian crisis, Zebari said Iraq and China were in agreement that military action must be avoided and that the solution of the Iranian nuclear issue should be found through dialogue with the P5+1 group of nations “to spare the region more tension, especially that Iraq would be the country most affected because of its closeness to Iran.”
Wang said his country “was eager to provide Iraq with help to achieve peace and security,” and added that China was “eager to provide constant support for Iraq’s efforts to maintain its independence, sovereignty and the security of its territory.”
Speaking on Syria, Wang said: “China has called for a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis and this is identical to the Iraqi position . . . and that all parties should maintain the basic principles which govern international relations by not interfering in internal affairs and maintaining the security of the region.”
He added: “The Syrian crisis is very complicated, and a political solution will not happen overnight and faces many challenges before it can be achieved through the joint efforts of the international community, including Iraq. We see that it is necessary for the international efforts to continue through Geneva II [negotiations] in order to reach a solution. All Syrian parties must participate in these efforts.”
Wang’s visit was the first by a high-ranking Chinese official since 2003.
Commenting on the visit, Sami Al-Askari, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Iraqi parliament and member of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The visit of the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers to Baghdad within one week—and both are permanent members of the [UN] Security Council—means the isolation of Iraq has been broken and Iraq’s experience in the region, despite all the problems it suffered . . . [can be] seen as a great experience, in addition to Iraq’s becoming a great political and economic ally of both Moscow and Beijing.”
Askari added: “China was one of the first countries whose companies came to Iraq and was a leader in this field. The evidence for this is that it is Iraq’s biggest trading partner.”
Additional reporting by Mohamed Zanganeh from Erbil.