Xi Elevates Ties with Syria After Assad Meeting at Asian Games

Xi Elevates Ties with Syria After Assad Meeting at Asian Games

The Lede: On Friday, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced that the two countries would upgrade relations to a "strategic partnership” in the southern city of Hangzhou, which is hosting the Asian games over the next two weeks. Assad is on a trip to China, his first since the start of the Syrian Civil War.

What We Know:

  • Xi pledged that China will support Syria against foreign interference, unilateral bullying, and provide aid for reconstruction. He called for the lifting of ‘illegal unilateral sanctions’ on the country.
  • Economic support to Syria would also be provided through the Belt and Road Initiative as part of Beijing’s global infrastructure strategy to foster a closer partnership in the Mediterranean region.
  • Leaders of South Korea, Malaysia, Cambodia, Kuwait, and Nepal were also in attendance at the 19th Asian games in Hangzhou. Xi met on Friday with Crown Prince of Kuwait Sheikh Mishal Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.

The Background: China maintained diplomatic ties with Syria throughout the civil war as other countries isolated Assad’s government. China has used its veto power at the United Nations eight times since the start of the conflict to stop resolutions against the Assad government. With the help of Iran and Russia, the Syrian government has retaken control of most of the country. In early 2022, Assad announced that Syria would join China’s Belt and Road Initiative. In May, the Arab League agreed to readmit Syria after it was suspended more than decade ago due to the civil war. China has helped to facilitate the restoration of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran earlier this year as Beijing expands its influence in the region.

Likely Outcomes:

  • China sees the Syrian port of Latakia as a strategic point of interest in projecting some of its influence in the Mediterranean Sea. However, Beijing will likely place smaller bets in Syria compared to other countries due to the higher degree of uncertainty as Assad is considered a pariah among significant parts of the international community. The country is also deep in an economic crisis that has come with anti-regime protests. China’s own economic slowdown will also likely play a role in reducing the magnitude of help in reconstruction and development.
  • The larger win for Beijing with this interaction is likely to be a new affirmation of its diplomatic footprint in the Middle East and touting success where the U.S. stumbled in its approach of military intervention and implementing sanctions. A narrative lane may emerge as part of its new claim as a leader within the Global South in which China steps in to assist in diplomacy, reconstruction, and development for countries affected by U.S. foreign policy interventions and embodying a savior story. Beijing’s role in cooling down the war in Yemen earlier this year can be seen as such.    


"Faced with an international situation full of instability and uncertainty, China is willing to continue to work together with Syria, firmly support each other, promote friendly cooperation, and jointly defend international fairness and justice.” - Xi Jinping, President of China

“The hope is that China might again use its role as a facilitator to mediate between Syria, Turkey, Iran and Russia to restore Assad’s government’s control of the country.” - Julia Gurol-Haller, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Freiburg

"This visit is not about the New Silk Road initiative, because China is no longer financially able to expand the project. It is more about Xi showing that he is the leader of the Global South." - Alfred Wu, professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at Singapore's National University

Good Reads:

Assad seeks Xi's help to end Syria's isolation (DW)

Syria’s Leader Visits China in Search of Friends and Funds (NYT)

China welcomes Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for summit (FT)

China and Syria announce 'strategic partnership' (Middle East Eye)

Chinese leader Xi Jinping calls for lifting of ‘illegal’ sanctions on Syria as he welcomes Bashar al-Assad to Asian Games (SCMP)