Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, said he is in talks with China to join its Belt & Road Initiative, as he looks for funding to rebuild the country after eight years of civil war.

Beijing is looking to extend its influence in the region and Assad said he has proposed a number of projects in the hope of securing Chinese investment in Syria’s reconstruction.

“There are mutual interests: it is beneficial to China, Syria and all the countries on this (Silk) Road,” he said.

The United Nations has estimated the cost of damage in the war-stricken country at more than $388 billion, and the cost of lost productivity to GDP at around $268 billion.

Most experts agree that it will take at least a decade to repair the war damage.

China has for years been trying to revive historic trading links with the Middle East through its Belt and Road initiative, a $1 trillion overseas investment plan.

Beijing, which has backed Assad’s Damascus regime against the opposition, has become the largest source of foreign investment in the region since signing deals with Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, among others. Oil-rich Syria was invited to attend a summit on the initiative for the first time in April.

“We have proposed around six projects to the Chinese government in line with the Belt and Road methodology and we are waiting to hear which project, or projects, is in line with their thinking,” Assad said yesterday. “I think when this infrastructure is developed, with time, the Belt & Road Initiative passing through Syria becomes a foregone conclusion.”

The civil war has laid waste to entire cities and damaged critical infrastructure, including the destruction of nearly a quarter of its housing stock.

The EU, the world’s largest aid donor has warned it will only provide support for Syria’s reconstruction once a credible “political transition away from the Assad firmly under way”.

The United States also imposed sanctions on Damascus and issued a global advisory warning that individuals and entities in the shipping industry seeking to do business with the regime would be in violation of them.

Assad has so far relied on his inner circle of allies and businessmen, but their contributions have fallen short. Iran and Russia, main allies of Damascus, have offered financial aid in return for resources and a permanent military presence in the country.