Syrian leadership is opening the door to extensive Chinese involvement in reconstruction after the civil war that has dragged on for years finally draws to a close.
In an interview with a Chinese broadcaster, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad described China as a “real friend, a friend that you can rely on,” adding that relations between Damascus and Beijing were “on the rise.”
Assad indicated that China may play a major role in the rebuilding process, noting that there are opportunities for Chinese participation in every sector of Syria’s economy.
“China can be in every sector with no exception, because we have damage in every sector,” Assad told reporters affiliated with Phoenix TV, a Hong Kong-based broadcaster. He mentioned that Chinese experts are already in country, noting that urban reconstruction has been identified as a priority. Other potential projects include infrastructure development, specifically regarding water, sewage, electricity, and energy facilities.
Assad said that China is already working on industrial projects in Syria.
China has stood on the side of Russia, Iran, and the Syrian regime in the ongoing civil war; however, it, largely limited its involvement in the conflict to encouraging peace talks. For years, China officially maintained a non-interventionist stance.
China’s behavior shifted last year though.
Chinese Rear Admiral Guan Youfei met with Syrian Defense Minister Fahd Jassem al-Freij in Damascus last August. “China and Syria’s militaries have traditionally maintained a friendly relationship, and China’s military is willing to keep strengthening exchanges and cooperation with Syria’s military,” Guan told the Syrian defense minister during the meeting.
The admiral agreed that China would provide “military training” and “humanitarian aid” to Syria.
China appointed former Chinese Ambassador to Iran, Xie Xiaoyan, as a special envoy to Syria in March and Xie traveled to Syria to meet with Syrian officials and members of the opposition challenging the Syrian government in April.
Assad praised China for using its veto power to block a U.N. resolution that would have sanctioned Syria for using chemical weapons against its citizens. “China protected the Chinese interests, Syrian interests, and the world interests, especially the small countries or the weak countries,” he told reporters.
China’s interest in Syria is believed to be closer to home.
China fears that radical militants will fuel the violent clashes that are becoming regular occurrences in China’s restive Xinjiang Province, which is home to the Muslim Uighur minority. In a shocking video released earlier this month by the Islamic State, Uighur militants vowed to return home and “shed blood like rivers.”
Chinese troops, mostly armed police, have been pouring into the troubled region to “bury the corpses of terrorists and terror gangs in the vast sea of the people’s war.”
Despite China’s stated interest in maintaining peace and stability in the region, it is unclear whether China will take on significant post-war projects in Syria.
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