Amid fears and hopes, Damascus joins China on the 'Silk Road
Beijing and Syrian representatives sign the official entry into the Belt and Road Initiative, as a means of strengthening and relaunching bilateral relations. China has sent one million anti-Covid vaccines and Assad is boosting the axis of 'resistance'. For those in favour, it is a response to the poverty caused by the conflict. But there are those who speak of "a worser evil".
Damascus (AsiaNews) - As a sign of a renewed alliance in economic and anti-Western terms, Damascus and Beijing have recently signed a series of memoranda of understanding that sanction Syria's official entry into Beijing's "new Silk Roads". After years of rumours and negotiations, President Bashar al-Assad's government has officially joined the Belt and Road Initiative, the global infrastructure plan launched in 2013 by Xi Jinping to increase the Asian giant's commercial - and at the same time geopolitical - centrality.
The news was greeted with contrasting opinions: those in favour believe that it could be instrumental in relaunching the country after the war and the economic crisis exacerbated by Western sanctions, in which the "poverty bomb" detonated by the war has been even more devastating than the conflict itself. Others do not hide their fear of getting caught up in the dragon's web, as happened to many other nations now in debt to Beijing to the tune of billions of dollars. So much so that an AsiaNews source in Damascus, speaking on condition of anonymity, says that "we are going from bad to worse" while peace and recovery "are still a distant dream".
Signing the agreement were Fadi al-Khalil, head of the Syrian Planning and Cooperation Commission, and Feng Biao, Chinese ambassador to Damascus. Syria," said Khalil, "was one of the founding nations of the ancient Silk Road, especially the cities of Aleppo and Palmyra. With this initiative we will revive this main road" as well as "strengthen mutual cooperation in a framework of friendly relations". Ambassador Feng also expressed his satisfaction, saying that "objectives and projects" had been outlined to "strengthen" relations and "Chinese participation in the economic reconstruction of Syria".
The official press organs of the respective countries are also celebrating the agreement: for Syrian Sana, it will allow "broadening the horizons of cooperation with China" and the other partner nations, with exchanges of goods, technology and capital combined with the movement of people and a return to the cultural level.
In an interview with the Global Times, Zhou Rong, an expert at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University, explains that "Syria's participation in the Belt and Road means that [Xi's] initiative no longer has blind spots in the Middle East, demonstrating its influence and appeal" for the region. Proof of this would be the past entry of Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey to name but a few.
Analysts and observers surveyed by Newsweek point out that the signing of the agreement would also have been prompted by the harsh Western sanctions - including the US Caesar Act - against Damascus, in the hope of providing a lifeline and a boost to investments. The damage caused by the internal civil war and the proxy war between regional and international powers on Syrian soil is still evident and there is increasing evidence of the progressive impoverishment of society. Hence the urgent need to relaunch the economy and restore centrality to a nation relegated to the sidelines.
Moreover, Beijing and Damascus have long focused on strengthening bilateral cooperation, as confirmed by the long telephone conversation between Xi and Assad in November. Recently, China sent a million doses of vaccine to Syria in the fight against Covid-19, although its effectiveness is doubtful. Finally, last week, the Syrian president called for a broadening of the "axis of resistance" of nations and non-state actors opposed to the West and its policies in the region.