BEIJING: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad arrived in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, his first visit to China since 2004 and his latest bid to end more than a decade of diplomatic isolation under Western sanctions.
Assad arrived aboard an Air China plane in heavy fog, which Chinese state media said “added to the atmosphere of mystery”, a nod to the Syrian leader’s infrequent trips abroad since 2011, when a civil war erupted that has killed more than half a million people.
The Syrian leader is set to attend Saturday’s Asian Games opening ceremony with more than a dozen other foreign dignitaries before leading a delegation in meetings in several Chinese cities. He meets President Xi Jinping on Friday (today) and has further meetings on Sunday and Monday in Beijing.
Being seen with China’s president at a regional gathering should add further legitimacy to Assad’s campaign to return to the world stage. Syria joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative in 2022 and was welcomed back into the Arab League in May.
Faced with a crippled economy and little to show so far from his efforts to rebuild ties with Arab states, Assad is keen for financial support. But any Chinese or other investment in Syria risks entangling an investor in US sanctions under the Caesar Act in 2020 that can freeze assets of anyone dealing with Syria.
“In his third term, Xi Jinping is seeking to openly challenge the United States, so I don’t think it’s a surprise that he is willing to go against international norms and host a leader like Assad,” said Alfred Wu, an associate professor at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.
“It will further marginalise China in the world, but he doesn’t care about this,” he said.
Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2023