The Syrian regime is exerting efforts to bolster its ties with East Asia as the US administration continues to impose more economic sanctions on Damascus’ main supporters, Iran, Russia and North Korea.
Sources told Asharq Al-Awsat on Sunday that last week’s visit by regime Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Walid al-Moalem to both China and North Korea reveal goals “to reach a breakthrough in circumventing the sanctions through China.”
China is suspected of playing a role in securing a channel to circumvent sanctions, which has allowed North Korea to continue to send military support to the Damascus regime.
Damascus and Tehran have set their sights on the Belt and Road Initiative, dubbed by Chinese President Xi Jinping as “the Project of the Century”, through which they believe they can reap a share that can help them confront US sanctions, said the sources.
China has, however, linked this issue to finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis.
Launched in 2013, Jinping said the program would restore the ancient Silk Road trading route that connected Asia and Europe.
Media leaks from Moalem’s visit to China revealed that Beijing expressed its readiness to take part in the reconstruction of Syria.
In the past two years, China has sent economic delegations to Syria to study opportunities for investment in the country, however, it never took tangible steps on the ground.
Chinese businessmen are also cautious about working in Syria after US sanctions targeted the Huawei Company and the Chinese telecom firm ZTE.
Moreover, Chinese companies withdrew their investment in the Marota City project in the Mazzeh District of Damascus after Washington imposed sanctions on shareholders, mainly Iranian and local companies.
The sources explained that the Chinese initiative overlaps with the Iranian project to construct railroads linking Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus and the port of Latakia on the Mediterranean Sea, where Beijing also hopes to reach Syrian ports, which should provide it with a portal to Europe and North Africa.
However, the sources said that China is not eager for new problems with Washington, which is why it is “trying to stand at an equal distance from all parties, to reach a political solution in the Middle East.”
As for North Korea, an agreement was signed between North Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong-ho and his Syrian counterpart to boost economic cooperation to counter the effects of international sanctions on both of their countries.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was also signed on establishing a committee for political consultation to bolster communication and coordination on all issues of mutual interest.
Over the past eight years, Western media reports have accused Pyongyang of providing Bashar Assad with arms and military equipment despite several sanctions imposed on his regime.