Syria has begun the process of joining China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the hope of attracting investment to rebuild its cities and infrastructure.
The civil war that broke out in 2011 is thought to have caused at least $120bn of physical damage and to have displaced half of the country’s pre-war population.
Damascus signed a memorandum of understanding on joining the BRI on Tuesday, in a ceremony held in the capital’s Planning and International Cooperation Commission. The event was attended by Fadi Khalil, the head of the commission, and Feng Biao, China’s ambassador to Syria.
The Syrian Arab News Agency reported that the initiative would “help open broad horizons of cooperation with China and a number of partner countries in the initiative in several areas, including the exchange of goods, technology and capital.”
The BRI presently has about 150 members, more than three-quarters of states recognised by the UN, as well as some 32 international organisations.
Khalil said at the ceremony that Syria had been part of the original silk road that connected China and Europe. “Syria was one of the foundational nations of the ancient route, especially the cities of Aleppo and Palmyra, and therefore we shall revive this road through joining this initiative.”
For his part, Feng commented that the pact would “deepen the working cooperation between our countries and strengthen their harmonisation” as well as “strengthening Chinese participation in the economic reconstruction of Syria”.
Military aid from Russia is credited with turning the war in Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s favour, however China also supported his government throughout the conflict, using its Security Council veto to prevent Western intervention and supplying small-scale investment and humanitarian assistance.
China has also shown increasing interest in helping the reconstruction effort now that the fighting has subsided in most of Syria’s national territory.
By contrast, the US has imposed a tight sanctions regime in response to allegations of the war crimes committed by Assad’s forces.