The Civil War in Syria
For decades, the Middle East has remained a contested battleground of proxy wars among regional powers, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, and even some global powers. Syria is one of the region’s most affected countries by proxy wars. The Arab Spring protests changed the dynamics of the politics of the Middle East. When such protests erupted in Syria against the existing regime, President Bashar al-Assad responded with force by opening fire on the peaceful protestors to silence their voices. This uncalculated response by Syria’s president resulted in foreign powers’ involvement, exacerbating the country’s conflict and leading Syria down the road to destruction.
After a decade, the conflict took the lives of hundreds of thousands and displaced millions. The Syrian economy was devastated, and the national currency reached its lowest historical level, resulting in hyperinflation. Further, the conflict forced around 90% of Syrians to live in poverty. After twelve years of civil war, President Bashar al-Assad has emerged as the dominant player in Syria. This development was announced in August of the current year, as Assad successfully reclaimed and established control over most of the Syrian territory.
Currently, Syria’s President Assad is confronted with very substantial challenges that are beyond the capacity of Syria to resolve independently. Due to this rationale, the Assad regime is actively cultivating and strengthening its diplomatic relationships with nations within the Middle East and other regions. On September 21, 2023, Assad made a historic visit to China, where he met Chinese President Xi Jinping. The visit was significant for Syria, which was in search of funds and friends, to rebuild the war-devastated state. The visit was also significant for Assad to restore legitimacy, as many Syrians still protest against Assad’s authoritative regime. The red carpet welcome by China is something Syria’s President Assad needed to highlight to his Syrian people.
During the recent visit, President Xi and President Assad jointly announced the establishment of a strategic partnership. This development is widely seen as a significant achievement for Syria. A strategic partnership refers to a collaborative and cooperative relationship between two nations in various spheres, including connectivity, commerce, and defense. President Xi also commended Bashar al-Assad’s efforts to resist foreign intervention and raised concerns about the imposition of sanctions by Western nations.
China is welcoming Syria to the international arena after being welcomed back to the Arab League after a decade of international isolation. Syria’s President Assad expressed gratitude to President Xi and emphasized the emergence of a multipolar global order, signaling a shift towards a future where multiple global powers prevail. This observation can be interpreted as a message to the United States, indicating that the presence of numerous influential actors will characterize the international landscape.
Beijing has also expressed its willingness to provide assistance and foster collaboration with Syria within the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) framework. It is to be noted that Syria became a member of the BRI project last year, but China has not made any substantial investment announcements in this regard. Syria’s location holds geo-significance as it is located between Iraq and Türkiye. Iraq is a major oil-producing country, while Türkiye is a gateway from Asia to Europe. Thus, Syria could play a key role in BRI in the future. The current focus of Beijing involves evaluating the long-term potential for assisting Syria. At present, it is unlikely that China will announce substantial investments in Syria. However, there are numerous prospects for such investments in the future.
China’s Influence in the Middle East
A question may arise regarding the benefits China can derive from this strategic partnership, given Syria’s current limited offerings due to its devastated situation. However, from a geopolitical perspective, it may be argued that China benefits significantly, as the Chinese government aims to increase its involvement in Middle Eastern politics. Beijing conveyed a clear message to Washington that it will continue to grow its influence in the Middle East by expanding its diplomatic engagement, as seen by its proactive efforts in brokering a peace agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Additionally, four nations hailing from the Middle East were sent invitations to become members of the BRICS alliance. China poses a notable challenge to the United States and its allies since it has extended its assistance to countries with anti-Western stances. According to expert analysis, there is a growing consensus that a coalition of China, Russia, Iran, and Syria is emerging to challenge Western hegemony. China and Russia frequently used their veto powers in the United Nations Security Council to provide diplomatic support to Syria, ensuring the continuity of President Assad’s regime. China consistently criticizes the Western practice of unilaterally imposing sanctions on nations experiencing severe economic distress, such as Syria and Afghanistan.
The primary difference in the strategic approaches of China and the United States lies in their respective preferences for diplomatic methods. China tends to prioritize soft power diplomacy, whereas the United States mainly prefers hard power tactics and coercive measures. China’s approach appears to be increasingly influential in Asia and the Middle East, while the United States’ influence in these regions is declining.
In the Middle East, there is a growing sentiment among people over their dissatisfaction with the ongoing state of warfare, prompting a collective desire for peace and prosperity. China has assumed a prominent position by publicly declaring a strategic partnership with Syria, indicating the likelihood of significant advancements in the future. Thus, in a nutshell, the battleground of the Middle East seems to be in favor of China for now.
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