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China and Syria announce new ‘strategic partnership’

Beijing is helping Damascus re-engage with other nations after a US-backed campaign to oust President Bashar Assad

Syrian President Bashar Assad and First Lady Asma Assad arrive in Hangzhou, China ©  Huang Zongzhi / Xinhua via AP

Beijing and Damascus announced the formation of a new “strategic partnership,” coinciding with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s ongoing visit to China. President Xi Jinping met Assad in the city of Hangzhou before this week’s launch of the Asian Games, a high-profile international sports event.

Assad is visiting China for the first time since 2004, when he met then-President Hu Jintao. Xi announced the partnership as he welcomed his guest in the capital of Zhejiang Province on Friday.

The Chinese leader stated that the relationship between the two nations has “withstood the test of international changes” and pledged to maintain them in the face of international “instability and uncertainty.”

The US and its allies have been seeking to oust Assad for over a decade, accusing him of various transgressions during an armed conflict in the country. The bloodshed started in 2011 as mass protests surged against the Syrian government but were soon hijacked by international jihadist organizations. These elements sidelined other anti-government forces, which Western nations touted as “moderate rebels,” as the main threat to Damascus.

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Russian intervention in 2015 turned the tide and helped the Syrian Army oust Islamist militants from most of the country. Some portions, where Turkish and American troops or their local allies are present, remain outside Damascus’ control.

The US has imposed crippling unilateral sanctions on Syria, which hamper its ability to reconstruct after this brutal conflict. Xi expressed support for Assad’s efforts to rebuild the nation, keep terrorists in check, and seek a political settlement for the Syrian people.

The Arab League readmitted Syria in May as Damascus seeks to normalize relations with its neighbors. Beijing had facilitated the restoration of diplomatic relations between regional rivals, Iran and Saudi Arabia, in June. Both nations played significant roles in the Syrian crisis, the former supporting Assad’s government and the latter initially vying for his ouster.

The Syrian president and First Lady Asma Assad arrived in Hangzhou on Thursday. On Saturday, the visiting dignitaries are set to attend the opening ceremony of the 19th Asian Games alongside a dozen other foreign guests.

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