Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, waves for his supporters at a polling station during the Presidential elections in the town of Douma, near Damascus, May 26, 2021. (File photo: AP)
Syria crisis
China builds ties with Syria helping Assad withstand US financial warfare
Giorgio Cafiero
Published: 24 July ,2021: 07:08 AM GST
Updated: 24 July ,2021: 08:34 AM GST
The visit that China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi paid to President Bashar al-Assad and other Syrian officials in Damascus this month was the latest sign of Beijing’s support for Syria’s government. By visiting Damascus and vowing to back Assad’s regime, China sent a strong message about the value that it places on good ties with the Arab country as the US wages financial warfare against Syria.
While in Damascus, Wang stressed Beijing’s firm opposition to regional and international efforts to push regime change in Syria, reaffirming Chinese support for Syrian sovereignty.
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Today in Washington there is bipartisan support for the Trump-era Caesar Act, which imposes crippling sanctions on Syria. Officials in Damascus have no intentions of making the reforms and major changes in Syria’s foreign policy that would be necessary for convincing the US government to lift the Caesar Act. Within this context, Syria will likely remain under Washington’s sweeping sanctions. Unless and until this changes, Syria will continue seeking ways to circumvent them to the best of its abilities.
Speaking in an interview with Al Arabiya Dr. Joshua Landis, the head of the Middle East department at the University of Oklahoma, said that China can weaken the impact of the Caesar sanctions.
“China is the workshop of the world so it can supply most of the goods that Syria needs. China is also strong enough to thumb its nose at US sanctions. As the US increasingly forbids US companies from dealing with Chinese firms, China has greater incentive to punish the US by breaking sanctions on countries like Iran and Syria,” Landis said.
Since the Syrian crisis began in 2011, Beijing has viewed the conflict as requiring a political solution reached by the Syrian people. A transition with reconciliation, and assistance from the international community are needed.
For Beijing, Syria matters significantly for multiple reasons. An important one is the Asian giant’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) agenda.
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi delivers a speech at the Lanting Forum in Beijing, China February 22, 2021. (File photo: Reuters)
Syria represents a corridor to the Mediterranean Sea that can bypass the Suez Canal and revive ancient Eurasian trade routes linking China to Europe and Africa. Tartus and Damascus’s incorporation into the BRI could boost Beijing’s economic footing in the Levant and Mediterranean.
Although the past ten-and-a-half years of warfare in Syria have prevented the Chinese from leveraging the Arab country’s geostrategic location to advance Beijing’s BRI agenda, China’s leadership is looking to play the long game, eyeing post-conflict Syria as an important piece in the BRI puzzle.
For Syria, the BRI offers a potentially valuable chance to economically integrate itself into West Asia as the world becomes more multipolar while the world’s center of geo-economic gravity continues shifting in China’s direction. Desperate for foreign investment in its reconstruction and redevelopment, Damascus sees China as an actor that is critical to work with as Assad’s government seeks to stabilize and rebuild war-torn Syria.
The Chinese have earned much goodwill in Damascus by virtue of Beijing’s pro-Assad stance. Undoubtedly, the Damascus regime and its Syrian supporters believe that China—along with Iran and Russia—must be the powers that benefit the most from economic opportunities from Syria’s reconstruction phase.
During Wang’s recent visit to Damascus, Syrian officialdom stressed that Damascus fully opposes any attempts by western powers to try and create a wedge between Beijing and the Islamic world. With the US—under both Presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden—and other western countries accusing China of “genocide” in Xinjiang, Syria joins almost all Arab governments in coming to Beijing’s defense in the face of these serious accusations.
By virtue of the fact that Uighur jihadists came to Syria to join the ranks of anti-Assad groups, including the Islamic State, Syria and China’s governments find themselves largely in the same boat with respect to counterterrorism.
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As of 2017, these Uighur fighters in Syria numbered 5,000, according to Syria’s ambassador to China. Officials in Beijing have grave concerns about the threat of these radicalized Uighurs returning from battlefields in the Levant to spill blood in China. Syrian officials have no interest in challenging Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang, which Damascus sees as legitimate measures to fight extremism—a perspective that fundamentally differs from those of western governments.
Similarly, just as the West sees Assad as a butcher and war criminal, Beijing’s view is polar opposite. As reported by China’s state-owned Xinhua News Agency, while Wang was in Damascus earlier this month he said: “The Syrian government's leading role in fighting terrorism on its soil should be respected, schemes of provoking ethnic divisions under the pretense of countering terrorism should be opposed, and Syria's sacrifice and contribution to the anti-terror fight should be acknowledged.”
Looking ahead, China is set to play a major role in Damascus’s efforts to withstand Washington’s financial warfare against Syria. Beijing has good reason to expect itself to become of greater value to Assad’s government throughout the foreseeable future.
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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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