In a significant geopolitical move, China’s President Xi Jinping championed the call for the West to end their sanctions on Syria. This public display of support took place during a rare dialogue with Syria’s isolated leader, Bashar al-Assad, in the Chinese city of Hangzhou. This meeting stands as a testament to China’s expanding diplomatic and strategic clout in the Middle East, further aligning its interests with regional powers such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Backdrop of the Talks
Syria, since 2011, has been a crucible of intense conflict and civil unrest. What began as a series of protests against the Syrian government swiftly escalated into a full-blown civil war. The devastating consequences of this prolonged strife have led to the tragic loss of hundreds of thousands of lives and the displacement of millions. In response to the Syrian government’s handling of the conflict, Western nations have, over the years, imposed a series of sanctions. These punitive measures have not only isolated Syria on the global stage but have also throttled its economy.
However, the meeting between Xi Jinping and Bashar al-Assad signals a potential turning point in Syria’s international relations.
China, as a prominent member of the global community, has frequently voiced its aversion to what it sees as unwarranted external interference in sovereign nations’ internal matters. In a statement released by Chinese state media summarizing the talks, Beijing made its stance clear. “China opposes interference by external forces in Syria’s internal affairs… and urges all relevant countries to lift illegal unilateral sanctions against Syria,” the readout stated.
China’s opposition to the sanctions isn’t merely verbal. President Xi Jinping has pledged to help Syria rebuild its war-torn economy. Furthermore, he has offered Beijing’s assistance to restore stability within the country and counter domestic upheaval. One of the significant takeaways from their discussion is the potential upgrading of ties between China and Syria to a “strategic partnership”.
The term “strategic partnership” in the lexicon of Chinese diplomacy is no trivial matter. It signifies a heightened level of cooperation on both regional and international matters. This encompasses various domains, from economic collaborations to possible coordination in the military arena. For context, the only relationship that surpasses a “strategic partnership” in terms of depth and breadth is what Beijing terms a “comprehensive strategic partnership”.
Syria’s Diplomatic Resurgence
From Syria’s standpoint, the endorsement from a global power like China cannot be underestimated. Bashar al-Assad’s regime, owing to its handling of the civil war, has been, in many ways, a pariah in the eyes of several international entities. The support from Beijing can significantly bolster Assad’s endeavors to reintegrate Syria into the global community.
This isn’t the first sign of Syria’s gradual return to the international fold. In 2022, Syria became a participant in China’s Belt and Road Initiative – an ambitious global infrastructure development strategy. This move was followed by Syria’s reinduction into the Arab League in May, a development that can be interpreted as the Arab world’s willingness to mend ties.
Implications for the Middle East and Beyond
China’s overt support for Syria can be analyzed as part of a broader strategy. The Middle East, with its complex web of alliances and conflicts, is of strategic importance to several global powers. For China, aligning with countries like Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia serves multiple purposes.
Firstly, it solidifies China’s presence in the region, providing it with a vantage point to influence regional dynamics. Secondly, the Middle East, being an energy hub, is of economic significance. Securing strategic partnerships could ensure China’s energy needs are met without hindrance. Lastly, by championing the cause of nations ostracized by the West, Beijing is positioning itself as an alternative diplomatic power center, challenging the West’s hegemony.
The talks between Xi Jinping and Bashar al-Assad, though a single event, could have far-reaching implications. If Western nations heed China’s call and lift sanctions on Syria, it could catalyze Syria’s reintegration into the international community. Moreover, the promised assistance from China could play a pivotal role in Syria’s post-war reconstruction.
However, while Beijing’s support provides Assad with a diplomatic boost, the path to Syria’s complete rehabilitation remains fraught with challenges. Not all global actors might be willing to overlook the atrocities linked to the Syrian civil war.
In conclusion, the meeting in Hangzhou marks a significant milestone in Syria’s journey on the international stage. It also underscores China’s growing influence in reshaping the global diplomatic landscape. How the international community responds to this overture will be a space to watch in the upcoming months.