Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s arrival in Hangzhou, China, marks a significant diplomatic move as he seeks to end more than a decade of isolation amid Western sanctions.
This visit, his first to China since 2004, carries a sense of mystery due to his rarity on the international stage since the Syrian civil war’s onset, which has tragically claimed over half a million lives.
Assad’s agenda includes attending the Asian Games’ opening ceremony alongside numerous foreign dignitaries and a series of meetings across Chinese cities, culminating in a summit with President Xi Jinping.
This opportunity to stand alongside China’s leader at a regional event can bolster Syria’s quest for international legitimacy.
Syria’s alignment with China’s Belt and Road Initiative in 2022 and its readmission to the Arab League in May have already marked significant steps towards global reintegration.
Alfred Wu, an associate professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, suggests that President Xi’s willingness to host Assad during his third term is part of China’s assertiveness on the world stage, even if it risks marginalization.
Assad faces sanctions from Australia, Canada, Europe, Switzerland, and the U.S., though multilateral sanctions efforts at the United Nations Security Council have been thwarted by China and Russia’s vetoes.
Unlike Russia and Iran, China has not directly supported Assad’s government in its bid to regain control of Syria.
Syria’s strategic importance lies in its geographical location, linking China to key players in the region, such as Iraq and Turkey.
While Syria is not a major oil producer, its revenue is vital for the Syrian government. Chinese energy giants Sinopec Corp, Sinochem, and CNPC invested $3 billion in Syria between 2008 and 2009.
However, these operations ceased in the following years due to EU sanctions and increased instability.
The question now is whether this visit will lead to tangible investment and cooperation.
With China’s growing frustration with the West and Syria’s desire to expand its international ties, the outcome of this diplomatic endeavor remains uncertain.
Samuel Ramani, an analyst at London’s RUSI think-tank, highlights the need for proposals to translate into practical projects for this engagement to bear fruit.