China’s Xi meets with Assad, offers to help war-torn Syria rebuild

With an upgrade in diplomatic ties, China on Friday offered to help boost Syria’s economy and counter domestic unrest in the war-torn country, while advancing its strategic interests in a region where it is already aligned with Iran and Saudi Arabia.

“In the face of an unstable and uncertain international environment, China is willing to continue to work with Syria in the interests of friendly cooperation and safeguarding international fairness and justice,” Chinese President Xi Jinping told his Syrian counterpart in Hangzhou.

“China supports Syria’s opposition to foreign interference, unilateral bullying… and will support Syria’s reconstruction,” he added, according to Chinese state media.

The diplomatically-isolated Syrian leader is in China to advance efforts to bring to an end more than a decade of diplomatic isolation under Western sanctions and to boost commercial ties with the world’s second-largest economy, as Syria desperately needs foreign investment.

Western sanctions on Syria have been steadily tightened since the early days of a civil war that began in 2011 with a crackdown on protests and went on to kill hundreds of thousands of people and displace millions. Assad’s government, backed by Russia and Iran, now controls most territory and has re-established ties in recent years with Arab neighbors that once backed his opponents.

Beijing has stepped up its diplomatic engagement with the Middle East in recent years, and in March helped broker a surprise deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran to end a seven-year-long diplomatic rift.

Citing flagship initiatives aimed at building up infrastructure along the ancient Silk Road and promoting China’s approach to global security, Xi extended support to Syria improving its relations with other Arab countries.

“China is willing to strengthen cooperation with Syria through the Belt and Road Initiative… to make positive contributions to regional and world peace and development,” Xi said.

But analysts doubt there is much appetite among Chinese firms to invest in Syria, given its poor security and dire financial situation.

Any Chinese or other investment in Syria also risks entangling an investor in US sanctions under the Caesar Act in 2020 that can freeze assets of anyone dealing with the pariah state.

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