India is slowly but steadily eating into the Chinese sphere of influence. In the waters, India has made China a mute spectator in the South China Sea, while on land borders, it is not letting China move an inch. Now, India needs to focus on the new battleground of the rivalry, Middle East.
China’s presence in Iraq
According to various reports available in the public domain, China has made massive inroads into the Middle Eastern country of Iraq. The space being vacated by western powers is getting occupied by China’s Belt and Road initiative.
The cordial relationship between Iraq and China is not only limited to economic transactions. China is in fact indoctrinating Iraqi children for being a faithful servant of the Chinese Communist party when they grow up.
Measuring the Chinese impact
Though China has been trying to gain foothold in Iraq from the initial days of Jinping, it really got a boost in 2019 when the CCP signed the “oil for construction” deal with Iraq. Under the deal, China ensured Iraq that it would buy its oil. The other side of the transaction involves rebuilding Iraq after the destruction caused by the American attack. China does not always pay money to Iraq. Instead, Chinese authorities galvanize their business personnel and tell them to build buildings in China.
In this way, China stands at dualistic advantages. It gets oil and its companies get business in Iraq. 44 per cent of Iraqi oil exported to the world goes to China. In return, the Chinese are building schools, airports and many other significant national assets in the Middle Eastern nation.
The increased Chinese presence in the country has translated into increasing trade ties between both countries. Given the fact that oil revenues account for 85 per cent of Iraq’s budget, China has become a key player in Iraq and this is an undeniable reality.
Iraq is important for India
As a rival, it becomes imminent for India to counter the presence of China. Iraq’s importance for India gets exacerbated by the fact that even after increasing Russian oil in India’s import basket, Iraq still holds the numero uno position of oil supplier to India. Moreover, unlike OPEC countries that rely on increasing oil prices, Iraq is competing with Russia in providing discounted oil to India.
It’s clear that Iraq is important, but it is also true that India does not have much clout in the country. What it has is the partnership with other countries in the region. Countries like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Israel among others are the ones which India needs to galvanise in order to regain foothold in the oil rich Iraq. And to be honest, it will be an easy task for the India as it’s already an established voice in the region and the new grouping called I2U2 is further enhancing India’s presence in the region.
I2U2 and its constituents’ equations with Iraq
I2U2 is composed of four nations namely Israel, India (I2), UAE, US (U2). The group is being termed as the QUAD of West Asia. It will increase military, economic and strategic cooperation between the members. The first I2U2 Summit has already taken place. UAE, the 2nd U of I2U2 also has a significant Iraqi population.
The Iraqis rendered homeless, jobless and devoid of any economic opportunity constantly look towards the UAE for opportunities. Estimates suggest that nearly 1,50,000 Iraqis currently reside in the UAE. There are nearly 500 Iraqi companies operating in Dubai alone. Apart from glitches such as the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, not many conflicts between both countries have been reported.
Similarly, the tensions between Iraq and Israel have lessened over the last 4 decades, though it is subject to fluctuations. In the wake of the Arab World preparing to compromise on their Palestine stand, both countries are less likely to engage in diplomatic wars in future.
The United States, the third member of I2U2, just needs a friendly ally in the region. In the wake of its withdrawal from Iraq, it would want to have a friend having significant impact on Iraq’s polity and India holds that moral position.
Things are more in India’s favour than winds against it. It’s time to leverage our soft power in the region to drive out China from Iraq, just like we are doing everywhere else.
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