The EU and the UN will co-chair the third conference on “Supporting the future of Syria and the region,” which will take place in Brussels from March 12 to 14.
At last year’s Brussels conference, the international community pledged 3.5 billion euro in funding to support humanitarian, stabilisation and development activities for 2018 in Syria and the region, and a further 2.9 billion euro for 2019-2020.
After eight years of war, more than 11 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance, and another 5 million are displaced outside the country.
These funds may relieve the suffering, but the real cost of the Syrian war cannot be understood from the necessity of providing lifesaving humanitarian aid to millions of Syrian refugees in a short period of time.
Also Read: China in Postwar Syria.
Today, millions of Syrians scattered across the globe are less interested in revolution than in a resolution.
One available resolution is for a peaceful political settlement and a safe and stable Syrian government transition according to international law. Another is for Damascus to carry on negotiation on settlements with a capitulated opposition and manage the American withdrawal with the support of Russian diplomacy and Iranian cooperation.
Currently, Europe is more interested in counter-terrorism operations and not interested in anti-government politics. Furthermore, regardless of the outcome of the ongoing conflict, observers know that the real cost of Syria’s war lies in the price tag for rebuilding.
The UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia put the bill at 388 billion U.S. dollars which few countries are poised to take on alone.
The UN-sponsored report suggests the U.S. and Europe should be involved in the reconstruction efforts. However, the potential of the U.S. reconstruction is unclear because of the current administration’s Syria exit policy.
In the meantime, Russia and Iran are not economically suited to take on the task alone and Turkey is heading up its own efforts in northern Syria where rebuilding infrastructure with European support is underway. Plans for rebuilding are not happening in isolation and the government in Damascus is pressing forward with its own work.
At the core of this effort is China’s industrial and economic depth. The current Chinese investment in Syria is driven by its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that aims to deliver Chinese goods and services all the way to Europe via an intercontinental thoroughfare.
According to the World Bank, the BRI will “transform the economic environment in which economies operate”. The China-backed project will cut down delivery time of commercial freight from 30 days by sea to 15 days by train and will give businesses different options based on their needs.
A significant portion of the proposed transport infrastructure travels from northern Iraq into southeastern Turkey all the way to Athens. Securing this route and enhancing the technical specs of the current infrastructure will put China in a position to change the way the entire continent does business.
China and Europe both stand to benefit from this, especially when the alternative is a longer sea route from the Suez Canal.
The key to the success of all these plans is China’s non-intervention policy, coupled with restrained support from Damascus, which will benefit Syria when compared to Russia and Iran.
This makes China a key player in not only bringing the conflict to an end but also rebuilding a country devastated by war. The cooperative relationship between China, Turkey, Russia, and Iran may prove to be the most productive node of political synergy.
At the end of the war, Europe will need China’s cooperation in order to benefit from potential profits of a completed Belt and Road Initiative. China will be much more suited to participate in a large scale rebuilding effort if there is stability and security in Syria.
Furthermore, China’s proximity to the tripartite talks in Astana put it in an advantageous position to support any tangible results related to a negotiated solution that can be carried forward by UN Resolution 2254.
Finally, there is also room for Turkey to play a role in tying up a key leg of the BRI connecting Asia to Europe. Turkey can give Chinese companies access to northern Syria through its 911 kilometre southern border, where they could coordinate efforts in rebuilding destroyed Syrian infrastructure and developing BRI transport networks.
What’s clear is that a positive outlook for a Chinese role in Syria’s future, and mutual benefit to the conflict’s stakeholders, is contingent on cooperation from all sides and an end to the violence in the country.