Chinese President Xi Jinping extended an offer to assist Syria in rejuvenating its war-ravaged economy and countering domestic challenges. This gesture marked the latest endeavor by President Bashar al-Assad to reintegrate Syria into the global sphere after a decade of unrest and isolation.
For Xi, this presents an opportunity to further China's strategic footprint in the Middle East—a region where China has already forged strong ties with powers like Iran and Saudi Arabia. Reuters suggests that this move strengthens not just individual bilateral relations but also provides a platform for China to leverage its influence in the geopolitically vital region.
"Safeguarding International Fairness and Justice"
During the discussions, Xi was unequivocal in his support for Syria's stance against foreign interventions and "unilateral bullying." He asserted, "China supports Syria's opposition to foreign interference and is willing to continue to work with Syria in the interests of friendly cooperation and safeguarding international fairness and justice." This commitment is further solidified with China's pledge, as reported by state media, to support Syria's reconstruction endeavors.
Significantly, the term "strategic partnership" in Chinese diplomatic parlance suggests intensified coordination in areas spanning regional, international, and even military concerns. This partnership is just a notch below what China labels a "comprehensive strategic partnership."
Challenges Ahead: Sanctions and Security Concerns
The path forward isn't devoid of challenges.
Western sanctions on Syria, which were ratcheted up since the nascent stages of the civil war in 2011, have posed severe economic hurdles. This conflict, which started with a clampdown on demonstrations, has led to the tragic deaths of hundreds of thousands and displaced countless more.
Despite China's overtures, experts express skepticism regarding the extent of China's tangible assistance to Syria. The reason? Any potential Chinese investments in Syria might be ensnared by US sanctions. A law established in 2020 could freeze the assets of those partnering with nations facing global censure, a category Syria sadly falls into.
Additionally, prospective Chinese investors would have to weigh the persistent security and fiscal challenges plaguing Syria.