Thu 21 Sep 2023 9:54 am - Jerusalem Time
Syrian Al-Assad is in China to obtain support for the reconstruction of his ravaged country
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad arrived in China on Thursday in his first official visit in nearly two decades to the allied country, and at a time when he is struggling to obtain support for the reconstruction of his war-ravaged country.
China is the third non-Arab country that Assad has visited during the years of ongoing conflict in his country since 2011, after Russia and Iran, Damascus's most prominent allies, which provide it with economic and military support that has changed the balance of the war in its favor. This visit falls within the framework of Assad's gradual return to the international arena over a year ago after the isolation imposed on him by the West, especially due to his suppression of the protest movement in his country, which developed into a devastating conflict.
The official CCTV television broadcast a live broadcast of Al-Assad's arrival in the city of Hangzhou, where he will participate in the opening of the Asian Games on Saturday with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.
Thus, Al-Assad became the last head of state, widely considered isolated, to be hosted by China this year after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. It also hosted a number of Russian officials, and invited President Vladimir Putin to visit it next month, according to what the New China News Agency (Xinhua) reported on Thursday.
Al-Assad is accompanied by his wife, Asma, and a political and economic delegation.
The visit includes meetings and events in the cities of Hangzhou and Beijing.
The Syrian newspaper Al-Watan, which is close to the government, reported that Al-Assad will attend the opening of the Asian Games in Hangzhou on the 23rd of this month.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not comment on the content of the visit.
This is the first visit by the Syrian President to China since 2004, while Chinese officials visited Damascus during the period of the bloody conflict.
China supported Damascus in international forums and the UN Security Council, repeatedly abstaining from voting for resolutions condemning it during the conflict, and used its veto alongside Russia to stop these resolutions.
Syrian political analyst Osama Dannoura from Damascus said, "This visit represents a break from an important level of diplomatic isolation and political blockade imposed on Syria, given that China is a major country with weight on the international economic and strategic levels."
He added to Agence France-Presse, "China is breaking the Western taboo that is trying to prevent a number of countries from dealing with what Washington considers isolated countries."
Western countries impose economic sanctions, which Damascus has long considered a fundamental reason for the continued deterioration of its economy.
Dannoura believed that for Damascus, China is a “reliable partner,” especially in the economic and reconstruction fields.
Regarding potential Chinese investments, he said, “China has the ability to complete infrastructure reconstruction in residential and civilian areas at an exceptional speed.”
After 12 years of a devastating conflict that claimed the lives of more than half a million people, left millions displaced and refugees, and destroyed the country's infrastructure, Syria is today seeking the support of allied countries for the reconstruction phase.
In previous statements, the Syrian President expressed his hope that Chinese institutions would invest in Syria.
Researcher Lina Al-Khatib, director of the Middle East Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, believed that Al-Assad is trying, through his visit to China, to convey a message about the beginning of “international legitimization” of his regime and the expected Chinese support in the reconstruction phase.
Al-Assad's visit comes at a time when Beijing is playing a growing role in the Middle East and is trying to promote its "New Silk Roads" plan, officially known as the "Belt and Road Initiative", which is a huge project of investments and loans that aims to establish infrastructure linking China to its traditional markets in Asia, Europe and Africa.
In January 2022, Syria joined the Belt and Road Initiative.
In parallel, China is strengthening its diplomatic activity, and over the past months it has hosted state leaders and officials facing international isolation, including Belarusian Alexander Lukashenko and representatives of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan. She also received the Venezuelan president, whose oil-rich country is facing a stifling economic crisis.
The Kremlin announced on Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin will also visit China in October, at a time when Moscow faces Western anger over its war in Ukraine.
This year witnessed changes in the Syrian diplomatic arena, represented by Damascus resuming its relationship with several Arab countries, led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, regaining its seat in the League of Arab States, and then the Syrian President’s participation in the Arab Summit in Jeddah in May for the first time in more than 12 years.
Diplomatic transformations accelerated on the Arab scene after a surprising Chinese-brokered agreement announced in March, which resulted in the resumption of relations that had been severed between Saudi Arabia and Iran.