23rd September 2023 – (Hangzhou) Chinese President Xi Jinping and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have jointly announced the establishment of a strategic partnership between China and Syria. The announcement came during their meeting in Hangzhou, ahead of the opening of the 19th Asian Games. This marks Assad’s first visit to China in almost two decades, since his last visit in 2004.
The establishment of this partnership is considered highly significant, as it is expected to greatly contribute to the improvement of the livelihoods of the Syrian people, which have been largely overlooked by Western countries. The move has practical implications and is seen as a supportive measure for Syria amidst the prolonged turmoil it has faced.
During Assad’s visit to Hangzhou, he and his wife visited the Lingyin Temple, one of China’s largest Buddhist temples. Their surprise appearance was met with a warm welcome from local tourists and sparked lively discussions on Chinese social media platforms. Videos of Assad and his wife shaking hands and exchanging hugs with visitors circulated widely on Weibo, showcasing the smooth communication and mutual respect between different cultures and civilisations.
President Xi highlighted that Syria was among the first Arab countries to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China and had co-sponsored the resolution to restore China’s lawful seat in the United Nations. The China-Syria relationship has endured for 67 years and has grown stronger over time.
Zhu Yongbiao, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at Lanzhou University, emphasised the practical and symbolic significance of the strategic partnership. He noted that for Syria, this partnership signifies an exit from diplomatic isolation and signifies the failure of US and allied attempts to overthrow the Assad government. Additionally, it demonstrates China’s strategic autonomy in its diplomatic approach despite US unilateralism.
President Xi reiterated China’s firm support for Syria on issues pertaining to its core interests and major concerns. China will work with Syria to safeguard the common interests of developing countries and oppose foreign interference, unilateralism, and bullying. China will support Syria in its reconstruction efforts, counter-terrorism capacity building, and the political settlement of the Syrian issue based on the “Syrian-led, Syrian-owned” principle. China also supports Syria in improving its relations with other Arab countries and playing a greater role in international and regional affairs.
The meeting between Xi and Assad holds great significance in terms of supporting the Syrian people in post-war reconstruction and economic recovery. Ordinary Syrians have faced severe hardships over the past decade, and their plight has been largely ignored by the West. In contrast, China has provided diplomatic and economic support, offering promising prospects for cooperation and strengthening ties.
In January 2022, Syria joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). During the meeting, President Xi expressed China’s willingness to enhance cooperation under the BRI with Syria and increase imports of high-quality agricultural products from Syria.
Assad expressed his sincere appreciation to the Chinese government for its valuable support to the Syrian people and firmly opposed any interference in China’s internal affairs. He affirmed Syria’s readiness to be a long-term friend and partner to China.
Following the meeting, several cooperation agreements were signed, including joint construction of the Belt and Road Initiative, economic development exchanges, and technological cooperation. The establishment of the China-Syria strategic partnership sets the stage for deeper collaboration between the two countries and holds the promise of a brighter future for Syria’s recovery and development.