Syrian President Bashar Al Assad arrived in Hangzhou, China, ending over a decade of Western sanctions-induced diplomatic isolation. Assad’s visit to China, his first since 2004, carries an air of mystery due to his infrequent international travels since the onset of the civil war in Syria in 2011.
During his stay, Assad is slated to attend the Asian Games’ opening ceremony alongside several foreign dignitaries, followed by meetings in various Chinese cities, including a key meeting with President Xi Jinping.
This move bolsters Assad’s bid to regain international recognition, especially after Syria joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative in 2022 and was readmitted to the Arab League in May.
While Assad seeks financial support for Syria’s beleaguered economy, potential Chinese investment faces the risk of US sanctions under the 2020 Caesar Act. Nonetheless, China’s willingness to host Assad signifies its challenge to US dominance on the world stage, despite potential diplomatic consequences.
Assad’s visit marks one of his longest trips abroad since the Syrian civil war began, highlighting China’s continued support for his regime, along with Russia and Iran. China, using its veto power, has thwarted UN resolutions condemning Assad’s government. However, it has not directly backed the regime’s efforts to regain control of Syria.
China’s strategic interests in Syria, as a crucial link between oil-rich Iraq and economic corridors stretching across Asia to Europe, make the country significant. While Chinese energy firms once invested heavily in Syria, analysts doubt a resurgence of Chinese investments due to security concerns and Syria’s dire financial situation.
Despite Syria’s persistent efforts to court Chinese investment, the outcome of this visit remains uncertain. China’s frustrations with the West and Syria’s quest for broader international ties may not necessarily translate into tangible projects.