Chinese Ambassador to Iraq Chen Weiqing welcomed on Sunday Iraqi visa applicants at the Chinese Embassy in Baghdad, ahead of Chinese Spring Festival, saying that China is keen to strengthen ties with Iraq.

“Iraq is at a transition point heading to the rebuilding stage. We are keen to strengthen ties between China and Iraq, and at the Chinese embassy, we will facilitate your visa process,” Chen said.

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Annually, as the Chinese New Year approaches, embassies of China around the world hold cultural events and ceremonies, but because of the precarious security situation in Iraq, the ambassador had to make a short speech.

“This is the last workday for the embassy before the Spring Festival. Last year, we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations with Iraq,” Chen told Xinhua.

“At present, relations between Iraq and China have developed very well, especially after China proposed the Belt and Road Initiative, in which Iraq was among the first Arab nations to join,” Chen added.

The Chinese embassy lies in Baghdad’s upscale neighbourhood of al-Arasat, which is a relatively safe area. But like most foreign embassies in Iraq, high security measures are necessary.

Dozens of Iraqi visa applicants, if not hundreds at peak days, flock into the embassy every day, as China has become a favourable destination to many for business or study.

Inside the embassy, a small room was decorated with traditional Chinese red lanterns and paper cuttings, while Chinese landscapes and images of cultural life in China were hanged on the walls.

Two Chinese diplomats and two local employees handled the visa applications. Applicants described the procedures as smooth.

“This is going to be my first visit to China. I am going to study Chinese language at Shandong University, and then I aspire to be a pilot and work in China,” Zeyad Ismael, 23, told Xinhua as he waited in the queue.

“My expectations are high. I have looked for images of Shandong province on the internet and I like it. I expect good opportunities and a beautiful life,” Ismael added.

Last year, the Chinese embassy received close to 20,000 visa applications, most of which were for business reasons.

In recent years, China has become a source for many goods imported to Iraq such as smartphones, electronics and automobiles.

Iraqi English teacher, Muqdad Salih, 38, speaks fluent Chinese as he studied the language in China in 2007. Now, he is on the way to China to work as an English teacher in China’s Jiangxi province.

“Chinese New Year celebrations were beautiful and I was surprised by the atmosphere and friendliness of the Chinese people,” Salih said.