Syria joins BRI amid extensive China-Mideast exchanges
China wins more trust from Mideast due to equal, sincere strategy
Published: Jan 13, 2022 11:49 PM
China and Syria. File photo: CFP

China and Syria. File photo: CFP

Syria on Wednesday signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as the country is seeking post-war reconstruction, showing its high political trust in China, experts noted. The move came two days before the scheduled visit of the Iranian foreign minister to China - as part of the intensive visits to China of Mideast senior officials this week.     

The ceremony of Syria joining the BRI took place at the Planning and International Cooperation Commission in the capital Damascus and was attended by Fadi Khalil, the head of the commission, and Feng Biao, China's ambassador to Syria, during which both sides signed MOU on Syria joining the BRI, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Khalil said the admission of Syria into the initiative revives the old role of Syria in the ancient Silk Road and will help in boosting bilateral cooperation with China and multilateral cooperation with other countries.

Feng added that the cooperation between the two countries provides the greatest contribution to the economic reconstruction and social development of Syria and it also enhances the harmonization between the BRI and the eastward strategy proposed by Syria.

The ambassador said the BRI is in line with the desire of the world for broad economic participation, noting that the initiative has become the biggest international cooperation platform in the world.

Syria had been struggled in wars in the past decade, so the major task for the Syrian government was to safeguard national sovereignty. Now it has entered a stage of reconstruction, and its decision to sign the MOU with China at this time shows its sincerity and huge political trust in China, Yin Gang, a researcher at the Institute of West-Asian and African Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Thursday.   

Yin noted that the Chinese government always showed support to the Syrian government during wars, which also lays a good political basis for the two sides' cooperation under the BRI.  

Syria's signing of the MOU on BRI came amid the intensive visits of six other Middle East countries' foreign ministers to China: foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain along with the Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Nayef bin Falah al-Hajrah kicked off a five-day visit to China since Monday and foreign ministers of Turkey and Iran are also scheduled to visit China on Wednesday and Friday at the invitation of State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. 

Yin said that Wang Yi is expected to reiterate China's support to Iran over the nuclear issue when meeting with the Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

The two sides would also talk about the specific implementation of projects under the 25-year cooperation agreement, said Zhou Rong, a senior researcher at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.  "After Iran takes a strategy of 'Look East,' China's investment to and trade with the country exceeds the total of that from Japan, South Korea and India. China never yields to pressure from the US," Zhou noted.  

Post-war reconstruction 

The BRI, proposed by China in 2013, comprises the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, aiming to build a trade, investment, and infrastructure network connecting Asia with other parts of the world along the ancient Silk Road trade routes and beyond.

"More and more countries joining the BRI amid the impact of the pandemic indicates that development and exchanges are what the world wants to see. For Arab countries, economic development is a precondition for them to step out of chaos caused by wars, for which the BRI will be a good opportunity," Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Syria, long crippled by Western sanctions, has been struggling economically and is eager to rebuild amid an isolated situation in the international community. Cooperation with China under the BRI will revive Syria's economy and help it fight the pandemic, Zhou said. 

Damascus faces a serious power shortage in part due to the lack of necessary infrastructure. Any infrastructure-focused help to Syria will be a much-needed shot in the arm, said Zhou. 

According to the Ministry of Commerce, Chinese investment in Syria totaled $135.7 billion by 2019. The two sides' trade totaled $1.3 billion in 2019, a year-on-year increase of 33 percent.

China has rich experiences in providing post-war reconstruction support. It has actively participated in Iraq's economic reconstruction, with bilateral friendly and practical cooperation making steady progress in various fields. The two countries have been supporting and helping each other since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In December 2021, Chinese companies signed deals to build 1,000 schools in Iraq while 3.2 million school-aged children in the war-torn Mideast country were reported to have no access to education.

Failure of US strategy in Middle East 

The priority for Mideast countries is to defeat the pandemic and revive their economies as soon as possible.  

"China is not geographically near the Middle East, nor does it foster political partners in the region. China only tries to seek equal cooperation and mutual development with all Mideast countries," Yin Gang said.  

China is a more friendly and trustworthy country to all Mideast countries compared to the US. China has no enemies in the region, does not want to seek monopoly, does not attach any additional conditions to cooperation with any country, and would not take sides on regional issues, Zhou said. On the contrary, the US usually has its own strategic desire behind its moves in the region, he added. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping had a phone conversation with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in November 2021, during which Xi called for joint efforts to defend international equity and justice, and safeguard the common interests of developing countries. 

China, he added, attaches great importance to the development of China-Syria relations and is ready to work with Syria to achieve more results in bilateral friendly cooperation, Xinhua News Agency reported. 

Xi said China firmly supports Syria in safeguarding its national sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, and will provide as much assistance as its capacity allows for Syria to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, revitalize its economy and improve the people's well-being, so as to continuously lift China-Syria cooperation to new levels.