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Diplomats' Iraq Return Set to Go Ahead
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In spite of a worsening safety situation in Iraq, Chinese diplomats will step ahead with plans to return to Baghdad, a Chinese foreign affairs official indicated Friday in Jordan. 


The 13-member group -- composed of seven officials from the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Commerce -- will leave Oman of Jordan for Baghdad "very soon," the official said in a telephone interview with China Daily.


The group will be protected by armed Chinese police.


The security will protect Chinese diplomats in the city where consecutive explosions occur almost daily, including the past few days.


The returning diplomats, headed by 63-year-old Sun Bigan, will maintain contacts with officials from the Temporary Governing Council of Iraq, the US-led coalition and the United Nations, according to the official, who asked not to be identified.


Another important mission of the diplomats is to help for Chinese companies intending to take part in the reconstruction of Iraq.


"Effective government coordination is very important for companies to get a share of the reconstruction market in Iraq," said Dong Baoping, a project manager of the Zhongxing Telecom Equipment (ZTE) Corp, in a telephone interview.


The company, one of China's largest listed telecom equipment providers, signed a US$5 million contract with Iraq's telecommunication authorities.


ZTE, which has been conducting business in the Middle East for six years, got the deal through international bidding and will repair destroyed telecom equipment in Iraq.


Zhang Yuncheng, an expert with the Division of World Economic Studies with the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, told China Daily the Chinese diplomats' return is good news for Chinese enterprises which have interests in Iraq.


Sources with the Foreign Ministry said China is willing to "make positive consideration of remitting its debt with Iraq by a large margin."


However, the specific amount involved has not yet been determined.


"Remitting of debt of course has links with the participation of Chinese enterprises in Iraq's reconstruction," said Zhang.


However, he admitted that Chinese companies still face many difficulties in getting the chance of a big share of Iraq's reconstruction effort.


Their most realistic option is to become subcontractors, said Zhang, noting that many Chinese enterprises are familiar with Iraq and have experience in projects there.


Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing Friday held a telephone conference call with members of the group who will leave for Iraq.


Li encouraged them to make efforts to "consolidate traditional friendships between Chinese and Iraqi people and develop bilateral relations."


(China Daily February 14, 2004)

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