HANGZHOU: Chinese President Xi Jinping and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Friday jointly announced the establishment of a China-Syria strategic partnership, as the two leaders met in Hangzhou ahead of the opening of the 19th Asian Games, almost two decades after Assad’s last visit to China in 2004.
Experts regard the move as being of great practical significance, as it will greatly support the improvement of Syrian people’s livelihoods, which have long been ignored by the West.
In Hangzhou on Friday, Assad was seen with his wife visiting the Lingyin Temple, one of the largest Buddhist temples in China. Their surprise appearance was warmly welcomed by local tourists and sparked heated discussions on Chinese social media.
In videos widely circulating on Weibo, Assad and his wife were seen shaking hands and exchanging hugs with visitors with big smiles on their faces – demonstrating through concrete actions that different cultures and civilizations can respect and communicate with each other smoothly, experts said.
When meeting with Assad, Xi said Syria was one of the first Arab countries to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, and was one of the countries that co-sponsored the resolution to restore the lawful seat of the People’s Republic of China in the United Nations.
Over the 67 years since the establishment of diplomatic ties between the two countries, the China-Syria relationship has stood the test of changes in the international situation, and their friendship has grown stronger over time, he said.
The establishment of the strategic partnership will be an important milestone in the history of bilateral ties, Xi noted.
Zhu Yongbiao, director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at Lanzhou University, told the Global Times on Friday that the establishment of the partnership is of great practical significance to both sides, and offers vast potential for future development. It also carries symbolic meaning, as it comes at a time when Syria has been embroiled in prolonged turmoil, particularly against the backdrop of US sanctions.
For Syria, the establishment of a partnership with China is an exit from its diplomatic isolation, highlighting the failure of the US and its allies’ efforts to overthrow Assad government, Zhu noted.
At the same time, it reflected the strategic autonomy of China’s diplomacy despite the US’ unilateral long-arm jurisdiction, the expert said.
During the meeting between both heads of state, Xi emphasized that China will continue to firmly support Syria on issues concerning its core interests and major concerns, work with Syria to safeguard the common interests of developing countries, and support Syria in opposing foreign interference, rejecting unilateralism and bullying, and safeguarding national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.
China supports Syria in conducting reconstruction, enhancing counter-terrorism capacity building, and promoting a political settlement of the Syrian issue following the “Syrian-led, Syrian-owned” principle, Xi said.
China also supports Syria in improving its relations with other Arab countries and playing a greater role in international and regional affairs, he added.
Amid the accelerated trend of reconciliation in the Middle East, Syria was reinstated to the Arab League after it was suspended from the body 12 years ago.
The visit came six months after a China-brokered deal saw longtime regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran agree to restore diplomatic relations. China now becomes one of a handful of countries outside the Middle East that Assad has visited since 2011, media reported.
Xi and Assad’s meeting is a valuable pillar of support for improving the lives of the Syrian people in the process of post-war reconstruction and economic recovery, Zhu noted.
“Over the past decade, the lives of ordinary Syrians have been severely affected, and their plight was deliberately ignored by the West. In contrast, China has provided diplomatic and economic support, providing Syria promising prospects for strengthening cooperation,” the expert said.
In January 2022, Syria joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Xi on Friday told Assad that China is willing to strengthen cooperation under the initiative with Syria, and also to increase the imports of high-quality agricultural products from Syria.
Assad told Xi that Syria sincerely appreciates the Chinese government for its valuable support to the Syrian people and firmly opposes any interference in China’s internal affairs. Syria is ready to be China’s long-term friend and partner, he added.
After the meeting, the two heads of state witnessed the signing of a number of cooperation agreements, including the joint construction of the Belt and Road Initiative, economic development exchanges, and technological cooperation.