China will encourage new and expanded strategic partnerships with Syria, said Zhao Leji, head of China’s National People’s Congress’s standing committee, during a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday.
During rare discussions with al-Assad on Friday, China’s President Xi Jinping called on the West to relax sanctions on Syria and offered Beijing’s assistance in reconstructing the war-torn nation.
Their encounter in the Chinese city of Hangzhou boosted al-Assad’s quest to reclaim the world arena while also allowing China to further its geopolitical objectives in the Middle East, where it already has alliances with Iran and Saudi Arabia.
“China opposes interference by external forces in Syria’s internal affairs… and urges all relevant countries to lift illegal unilateral sanctions against Syria,” said a readout of the talks published by Chinese state media.
Xi also told al-Assad that China would help Syria to rebuild its ruined economy and counter domestic unrest, by upgrading ties to a “strategic partnership.”
Xi’s endorsement should strengthen al-Assad’s efforts to plot a a path back from what is effectively pariah status. Syria joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative in 2022 and was welcomed back into the Arab League in May.
In Chinese diplomacy, a “strategic partnership” implies closer coordination on regional and international affairs, including in the military sphere. It is one grade below what Beijing calls a “comprehensive strategic partnership.”
Western sanctions on Syria have been steadily tightened since the early days of a civil war that began in 2011 with a crackdown on protests and went on to kill hundreds of thousands of people and displace millions.
Al-Assad’s government, backed by Russia and Iran, now controls most Syrian territory and has re-established ties in recent years with Arab neighbors that once backed his opponents.