Chinese Foreign Minister Visits Damascus; a New Strategy for Syria

2021/08/02 | interview, political, top news

Strategic Council Online - An expert on West Asia affairs said that the presence of the Chinese Foreign Minister in Damascus after 10 years could be a prelude to Beijing’s desire for a broad economic presence in Syria, adding: China sees Syria and especially reconstruction of that country as an opportunity to enhance its presence and influence in the Middle East.

Referring to the Chinese foreign minister’s visit to Damascus and the country’s quadripartite initiative on Syria, Mostafa Najafi, speaking in an interview with the website of the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, said: Although the Chinese have had a lot of political support for Syria since the start of the Syrian crisis in 2011, they did not provide special military, security or economic support; political support was also provided in the context of the veto of Security Council resolutions on Syria.

Saying that Beijing officials are currently seeking to examine their 11-year political support for Syria, adding that although Iran and Russia have fully supported Syria; China will enter a stronger economy with regard to its high economic potential.

Rebuilding Syria, an opportunity for China

Emphasizing that presence of the Chinese foreign minister in Syria in general should be seen within the context of a larger strategy of economic influence in the Middle East, the Syrian affairs expert added: China has defined a goal in the Middle East and seeks to gain a foothold and have influence in the economic sphere in all parts of the Middle East. With this approach, they see Syria, and especially the reconstruction of that country, as an opportunity for themselves.

Explaining the issues raised in China’s four-pronged plan for Syria, Najafi continued: The second paragraph of the plan emphasizes the welfare of the Syrian people, in which economic issues are very important, and the Chinese have announced their readiness to invest in Syria to establish Chinese free trade zones in that country.

China’s confidence in political, security stability in Syria

Recalling that emphasis on “preserving territorial integrity”, “fighting with terrorism” and “resolving the political crisis” are the other three pillars of the quadripartite plan, he said: Chinese foreign minister’s visit to Syria after the recent presidential election and re-election of Bashar Assad means emphasizing Bashar Assad’s international political legitimacy; at the same time, they seem to be assured of stability in Syria.

Najafi explained: Earlier, the Assad government had repeatedly asked for help in rebuilding Syria, but the Chinese were not very willing to participate. In the current situation, they seem to be confident of security and some political stability in Syria and are looking to use this stability and expand their economic influence.

The expert on Syria affairs, saying that China’s economic presence in Syria should be assessed along the One Belt One Road Initiative, noted: One of the corridors connecting China to the Mediterranean and Europe passes is through Syria. The Chinese have been pursuing this project for years, and now is a good time to take another step. As we continue to negotiate with Syria and the Syrian government supports it because of its reconstruction, the past two years have seen China negotiating with Iran, Pakistan and Iraq to complete the puzzle of the corridor to the Mediterranean.

Reducing US presence in the region; an opportunity for China

Referring to the US decisions for the Middle East and changing the way of its presence in the region, Najafi said: China’s efforts to increase its influence in the region are closely linked to the US policy. With the US presence diminishing, China is definitely ready to take its place at any level. China is the first market for Iraqi oil exports, and about 800,000 barrels of oil are exported daily from that country to China, which is equivalent to 44% of its oil exports. Iraq is heavily dependent on energy exports to China, and if the issue of US troops leaving Iraq begins, China will soon be ready to fill that gap in Iraq.

He added: Definitely reducing the presence of US forces in the Middle East is a great opportunity for China to increase its influence in the region. The Americans are aware of this, but their strategy is to contain China in the East.

China’s strong presence and influence in future of the Middle East

Referring to the Chinese presence in development and reconstruction projects in the occupied territories, the West Asia affairs expert said: The Chinese have undertaken reconstruction and development project of Haifa port and even Trump has warned Netanyahu many times about that issue, but the Israelis did not accept! They also seem to be aware that China’s presence and influence in the future of the Middle East is certain.

According to Najafi; there is no country in the Middle East that does not welcome China’s presence and influence in the region, and everyone wants to work with China in the new Middle East.

Regarding the consequences of strengthening China’s role in Syria, especially in the fight against terrorism, he said: The Chinese certainly want the issue of terrorism in Syria to be resolved first and foremost for the sake of their investment security, of course, ISIS now has no presence or influence in Syria, except in parts to the east and to a lesser extent in central Syria; but the issue of Idlib still remains, where some of those terrorists are being supported by some Arab countries in the region and Turkey. If the Idlib issue ends, China’s security concerns in Syria will be resolved, and China sees this as an opportunity.

Najafi stressed: Presence of the Chinese foreign minister in Damascus after 10 years could be a prelude to the country’s desire for a broad economic presence in Syria. However, the Chinese economic presence in Syria deprives Iran of opportunities; but it also provides opportunities, including a “belt road” project that passes through Iran, which can greatly help discuss Iran’s transportation and logistics issues.

The Syrian affairs expert continued: Incidentally, the Israelis also tried very hard not to implement the path that the Chinese are pursuing. They intended that by connecting the port of Haifa to the Persian Gulf and Arab countries, the path connecting China to the Mediterranean and Europe pass through that port, but the Chinese seem to be considering the route through Iran, which will also provide many strategic advantages for them as well.

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