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Syria's Assad visits China for first time since civil war

GreenWatch Desk Diplomacy 2023-09-21, 4:11pm

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Syrian President Bashar Assad arrived in China on Thursday to kick off a series of meetings in several Chinese cities, including a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Assad's first stop was the eastern city of Hangzhou, where he will attend the Asian Games, an international sporting event starting Saturday.

The Syrian leader's office said he was invited to China by Xi and will be accompanied by a high-ranking Syrian delegation. Xi is expected to arrive in Hangzhou on Friday to hold a banquet along with Assad and other heads of state and government attending the games.

Assad looks to secure Chinese aid

It is Assad's first visit to China since Syria's civil war began in 2012. The conflict has killed more than half a million people, while displacing millions of civilians and destroying wide swathes of Syria's infrastructure and industry.

Haid Haid, a consulting fellow at London's Chatham House, said Assad's meeting with Xi is expected to focus on trying to secure help in rebuilding Syria, he wrote on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

In 2022, Syria joined China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which provides infrastructure funding to developing areas, ostensibly in exchange for regional influence. However, funding for BRI projects in Syria has "yet to materialize," Haid said.

The visit comes as China expands its influence in the Middle East, which was highlighted by mediating a deal in March between Saudi Arabia and Iran to restore ties and reopen their respective embassies.

China's support for Syria
Beijing has long backed Assad's regime, including providing diplomatic support in the UN Security Council, where China is a permanent member, and has used its veto power eight times to block resolutions against Assad's government.

UN inquiries have implicated Assad as being complicit in committing war crimes during the conflict, which titled in Assad's favor after Russian military intervention in 2015. During the war, Assad became a pariah in the Arab world, while being subjected to Western sanctions.

However, the return of Syria to the Arab League at a summit in Saudi Arabia in May 2023 has been seen as a sign that Assad's isolation is ebbing, and he will keep his grip on power in Syria, reports DW.