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Syria's Assad visits China seeking funds

By AFP - Sep 22,2023 - Last updated at Sep 22,2023

A handout photo released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency shows Syria's President Bashar Assad and First Lady Asma Al Assad being welcomed upon their arrival at the airport in Beijing, on Thursday (AFP photo)

HANGZHOU, China — Syrian President Bashar Assad on Thursday began his first official trip to China in almost two decades, with Beijing saying the visit will take ties to a "new level" as the Arab leader seeks financial support to help rebuild his devastated country.

China is one of only a handful of countries outside the Middle East that Assad has visited since the 2011 start of a civil war that has killed more than half a million people, displaced millions more, and battered Syria's infrastructure and industry.

He arrived Thursday in the eastern city of Hangzhou, where he will attend the opening ceremony of the Asian Games on Saturday.

The Syrian president’s Air China plane was greeted on the tarmac by jubilant music and rows of performers wearing colourful costumes, as Chinese and Syrian flags flapped in the sky, footage from state broadcaster CCTV showed.

He and other foreign leaders will meet Xi in Hangzhou, CCTV said.

According to the Syrian presidency, Assad will also travel to Beijing.

The visit is his first to China since 2004.

China’s foreign ministry said the visit will serve to take ties to a “new level”.

“China and Syria have a traditional and deep friendship,” foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told a regular briefing.

“We believe that President Bashar Al Assad’s visit will further deepen mutual political trust and cooperation in various fields between the two countries,” she added.

Beijing has long provided Damascus with diplomatic support, particularly at the UN Security Council where it is a permanent member.

“This visit represents an important rupture in the diplomatic isolation and the political siege imposed on Syria,” Damascus-based political scientist Oussama Dannoura told AFP.

“China has been breaking Western taboos that seek to prevent a number of states from dealing with countries that Washington considers isolated,” he added.

The visit comes as China expands its engagement in the Middle East.

This year Beijing brokered a deal that saw longtime regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Damascus-backer Iran agree to restore ties and reopen their respective embassies.

The detente was followed by Syria’s return to the Arab fold at a summit in Saudi Arabia in May, ending more than a decade of regional isolation.

China pledged $2 billion in investments in Syria in 2017, Haid noted — funds that have “yet to materialise”.

For Syria, joining the initiative “hasn’t resulted in significant Chinese investments in Syria, either from the Chinese government or the private sector”, he said.


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