Beijing is preparing to reopen its embassy and help Chinese companies win reconstruction contracts.

The 13-member team, headed by interim charge d'affaires to Iraq Sun Bigan, left for Iraq from the Jordanian capital Amman on Sunday, the official Xinhua news agency said.

The delegation, the first to visit Iraq since China evacuated its embassy three days before the outbreak of war last March, comprises diplomats from the commerce and foreign ministries and six armed Chinese policemen.

"After entering Iraq, the mission will seek to develop the traditional friendly relations between the peoples of the two countries and protect the rights and interests of the Chinese in Iraq," Sun said.

Sun's team will have talks with the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) and United Nations officials.

US and China have been in
constant dialogue 

Last August China told a visiting member of the Iraqi Governing Council that the "legitimate interests" of foreign countries in Iraq should be safeguarded, in a veiled reference to contracts that Chinese companies had signed with Saddam Hussein's government.

Sun said the mission would try to help Chinese companies obtain shares in Iraqi reconstruction contracts.

China-US agreement

China won its first post-war contract last week, a five-million dollar deal to supply Iraq with telecommunications equipment, after six months of difficult negotiations. The Zhongxing Telecom Co (ZTE) deal was concluded in the face of what Xinhua said was "some resistance" on the part of the US-led
Coalition Provisional Authority.

China, a permanent UN Security Council member which opposed the invasion of Iraq, has long been keen to muscle in on the lucrative rebuilding phase.

Aljazeera reporter in China Dr Izzat Shahrur said James Baker, US President George Bush's special envoy to Iraq who is trying to persuade Iraq's creditors to write off Iraq's debts, hailed China's vow to write-off the money it owed.


"China's commitment to forgive or write-off Iraq's debt for humanitarian reasons, pleased the US ....... the secretary of state Colin Powell has said China is not listed among the US list of countries which would be banned from contracts" Dr Shahroor said

"because its objection was limited to the call for an international decision to go to war, unlike France, Germany and Russia who objected to the war even inside the security council", said Dr Shahroor.

Last August China told a visiting member of the Iraqi Governing Council that the "legitimate interests" of foreign countries in Iraq should be safeguarded

The US hopes that China will play a key role in convicing North Korea to drop its weapons of mass destruction plans. China will participate in late February negotiations with North Korea.

China-US disagreement

The United States believes China is still cooperating with Saudi Arabia on missiles and with Pakistan on nuclear technology and missiles, despite Beijing's promises to control arms proliferation, US officials say.

Investigators have identified China as the origin of nuclear weapons designs found in Libya last year, exposing yet another link in a chain of proliferation that passed nuclear secrets through Pakistan, The Washington Post reported on Sunday.