Syria's Assad to visit China Thursday: Office

AFP , Tuesday 19 Sep 2023

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will visit China from Thursday, his office said, his first trip to the allied country since before the Syrian civil war broke out more than 12 years ago.

Syria - China flags
File photo: A Chinese Foreign Ministry staff member arranges the Chinese flag before the arrival of Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing on December 24, 2015. AFP


China will be the third non-Arab country Assad visits since before the conflict, which has killed more than 500,000 people, displaced millions and battered the country's infrastructure and industry.

"In response to an official invitation" from Chinese President Xi Jinping, Assad and his wife "will visit China starting Thursday", the presidency said in a statement.

"The visit includes a number of meetings and events" in Beijing and Hangzhou, the statement said, adding that Assad would be accompanied by "a political and economic delegation".

Pro-government newspaper Al-Watan said Assad was expected to attend the opening of the Asian Games in Hangzhou on September 23.

Beijing has provided Damascus with international support, particularly at the UN Security Council, where it has repeatedly abstained from resolutions against Damascus.

Officials from both countries have also made visits over the years.

The announcement comes six months after a surprise China-brokered deal saw longtime regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran agree to restore diplomatic relations and reopen their respective embassies.

The landmark move sparked a flurry of diplomacy in the Middle East, where Arab outreach to Assad, an Iran ally, had already gained momentum after a deadly February 6 earthquake struck Syria and Turkey.

Following the deal, Riyadh championed the return of Syria to the Arab fold at a summit in Saudi Arabia in May, ending more than a decade of Damascus's regional isolation.

In Damascus in 2021, Assad met with China's foreign minister, Wang Yi, and discussed Syria possibly taking part in China's "Belt and Road" infrastructure and trade initiative, the Syrian presidency said at the time.

In 2019, Wang told Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, who was visiting Beijing, that China "firmly supports Syria's economic reconstruction" and its efforts to "combat terrorism".

With support from Moscow and Tehran, Damascus has clawed back much of the territory it had lost to rebels early in the conflict.

Years of pressure from China and Russia at the UN Security Council has also chipped away at a cross-border aid mechanism into the rebel-held northwest, with Beijing and Moscow arguing that the UN authorisation violates Syria's sovereignty.

In June at the UN General Assembly, China along with Syria, Russia and Iran objected to creating an independent body to clarify the fate of thousands of people missing since Syria's war broke out.

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