Assad gets the red carpet in China

Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad touched down in China’s eastern city of Hangzhou yesterday (Thursday), arriving on an Air China charter along a China-friendly flight route. It’s his first visit to the country since 2004.

What’s Assad doing there? His objective is to:

  • Rebuild his own legitimacy, with the help of a few photos alongside President Xi and other leaders at the Asian Games, and
  • Rebuild his war-torn country, where an economic crisis has recently triggered rare anti-Assad protests in his stronghold cities.

And why would China host Assad, who still faces war crime allegations?

  • The Arab League already readmitted him in May after a decade of atrocity-related isolation, cutting the reputational costs for China to follow suit, and
  • Hosting Assad plays to China’s self-image in the region as a peacemaker, versus the image it projects of the US as a meddler.

Intrigue’s take: It’s hard to see China investing in Syria again any time soon. Its earlier investors already took a hit when the civil war erupted, and another $2B pledge from 2017 still hasn’t appeared. The insecurity and far-reaching US sanctions just make the costs too high.

But in the meantime, photo ops seem to serve both leaders’ aims.

Also worth noting:

  • China and Russia have vetoed eight UN Security Council resolutions against Syria, generally on the grounds that the resolutions interfered in Syria’s internal affairs and violated its sovereignty.
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