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China, Syria announce 'partnership' after Assad-Xi talks

September 22, 2023

Chinese President Xi Jinping said Syria and China would pursue a "strategic partnership" after meeting with Bashar Assad. China has been a stalwart defender of Assad's regime, despite Western human rights criticism.

Xi Jinping and Bashar Assad meet at a table in a Syrian state TV image
Assad was accompanied by a high-level delegation Image: SANA/REUTERS

Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Syrian President Bashar Assad on Friday, and announced the establishment of a "strategic partnership," according to a readout of the meeting by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.

Xi said the partnership "will become an important milestone in the history of bilateral relations," without providing any further details.

"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," he added.

Assad arrived in China on Thursday, and will attend the opening ceremony of the Asian Games, an international sporting event, in Hangzhou on Saturday. He met with Xi in the eastern Chinese city on Friday afternoon, state media reported. 

Syria: Bashar Assad returns to the international stage

Assad is on his first trip outside of the Middle East, other than Russia, since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, following his regime's brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Beijing pledges to help rebuild Syria 

Beijing has long backed Assad's regime, including providing diplomatic support in the UN Security Council, where China is a permanent member, and has used its veto power eight times to block resolutions against Assad's government.

International investigations have implicated Assad in human rights abuses during the war. His regime continues to face Western sanctions.

"China supports Syria's opposition to foreign interference, unilateral bullying ... and will support Syria's reconstruction," Xi added, according to Chinese state media.

The visit comes as China expands its influence in the Middle East, which was highlighted by mediating a deal in March between Saudi Arabia and Iran to restore ties and reopen their respective embassies.

In 2022, Syria joined China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which provides infrastructure funding to developing areas, ostensibly in exchange for regional influence.

wmr/wd (AFP, Reuters)