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April 17, 2004

Chinese Workers Work, American Workers Die in Iraq


by Sascha Matuszak

The kidnapping and swift release last week of seven Chinese citizens brings to light China's relationship with Iraq.

The Chinese were released to a local association of Islamic clerics within 36 hours without having been harmed, threatened or televised. A local Chinese businessman, Chen Xian Zhong, reported to domestic media that the seven were safe and in the care of the clerics.

When compared with the week-long ordeal the Japanese hostages went through complete with footage of a knife held to a man's neck the Chinese were very lucky.

The seven Fujianese were on their way from Amman, Jordan to Baghdad but for what no one seems to know. The embassy in Jordan labeled them as "civilians" who drove to Baghdad on their own without notifying the embassy. If one takes into account the former hostages' hometown poor and tiny Pingtan county it is safe to assume they were laborers for some Chinese reconstruction project in Iraq.

Jordan has been the staging point for a revival of economic ties between Iraq and China: ZTE, a telecommunications company from Shenzhen, landed a contract in February just before the Chinese Embassy in Baghdad was reopened for business. Chinese businessmen were reportedly "shuffling back and forth" between Amman and Baghdad before the re-opening, maintaining relationships and doing business.

Windfalls of War

The US Government has been imposing sanctions on Chinese companies and individuals doing business with Iran and/or Iraq since the end of the first Gulf War. The machinery and technology sold by the Chinese companies in question were seen by the US to be of a greater threat to world stability and safety than the billions of dollars of arms sold to Iraq by the US in the past two decades.

As with Sino-Pak arms deals, the real issue here is not arms proliferation per se, but who gets to proliferate. The double standard inherent in the US righteous approach to arms deals and business in "rogue countries" in general is yet another indictment of the foreign policy that has gained the Bush Administration nothing but enemies.

The difference between American and Chinese business deals with Iraq lies in Beijing's reluctance to use politics, sanctions, and outright war to prevent other countries from "helping to reconstruct" Iraq.

Instead, China worked with James Baker and the CPA to negotiate debt-forgiveness in order to "revive Iraq's economy." Ironically, Baker's world tour to forgive debt was just a ploy to free up Iraqi money for American companies. Now those same countries that are considering debt-forgiveness face a hostile, American-dominated CPA hell-bent on keeping everybody but Halliburton and Friends out of Iraq.

Now after waltzing in and commandeering all construction projects in sight US companies have to defend their integrity and the lives of their workers.

Chinese companies, as with the example of ZTE, are preferred by the Iraqis over such giants as Lucent Technologies. It's a guangxi thing something Americans understand only as bribes if they understand it at all.

So while Americans are burned, mutilated, shot at, cursed and reviled in Iraq all for the benefit of a rabid cabal of warmongers and their business associates Chinese businessmen scurry back and forth between Amman and Baghdad securing tiny but crucial deals. China was one of prewar Iraq's largest trading partners, behind India, France and Russia if the dust ever clears and the US finds itself with an Iraq that they never imagined would exist, Chinese workers from the Fujianese countryside will still be welcome - along with the companies that employ them.

In related news, "China basks in the glory of yet another Human Rights victory."

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  • Sascha Matuszak is a freelance writer living in Chengdu.

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