China, a privileged partner in Syria's reconstruction

By Haifa Said
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, October 13, 2017
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As Syria edges towards peace, many investors and entrepreneurs around the world are beginning to consider the "golden" opportunities awaiting when the dust final settles there.

After nearly seven years of crushing war, Syria's economy has been seriously crippled, said to total about US$226 billion in cumulative losses from 2011 until 2016 -- about four times the Syrian GDP in 2010 -- according to World Bank estimates in July.

However, the recent establishment of Astana-brokered safe zones has allowed the Syrian government to regain control of large swathes of territory, including areas containing strategic oil and gas fields and key factories.

Government plans to rehabilitate the severely damaged infrastructure and rebuild wrecked cities have started to take shape, focusing on obtaining Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) besides promoting a process of privatization due to lack of funds and reserves.

As repeatedly stated by Syrian officials, the main beneficiaries of this reconstruction drive will be the friendly countries and allies. No doubt China will be chief among them.

In his March interview with Phoenix TV, President Bashar al-Assad said China, "a real friend…that you can rely on," could play a major role in the rebuilding process in every sector of Syria's economy, with urban reconstruction and infrastructure development a priority. He noted that Chinese experts are already in the country working on many projects.

At the outset of the war, China was Syria's top trading partner, supplying communications and electronic equipment, and heavy machinery.

China's involvement in Syria's oil industry was also intensive. China National Petroleum Corporation holds shares in two of Syria's largest oil companies, operating in the Hayan oilfield. A multibillion-dollar deal for the exploration and development of other oil fields exists but has been in limbo since ISIS gained control.

China is now in a privileged position to gain a lion's share of the Syrian reconstruction drive, partly based on it not having any military involvement in the long war. Its approach of non-interference and advocacy of peace, and its political closeness to the Assad government makes it a preferable partner than Gulf and Western nations, especially as some of these still insist on the departure of President al-Assad before offering a helping hand.

Being located along the extended Silk Road, Syria could be a possible station of the "Belt and Road" initiative aimed at linking China with Europe through the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

Syria may be an attractive project for a considerable share of the US$3 trillion reserves China retains for possible investment abroad.

China's previous concerns over lack of full stability and a credible political settlement that restrained intensive economic involvement in Syria previously have been eased as the conflict there draws to a close.

The growing interest of Chinese entrepreneurs is indicated by a flurry of recent Syrian-Chinese activities.

At least 30 Chinese enterprises, including infrastructure construction giants China Energy Engineering Corp. and China Construction Fifth Engineering Division Corp., have visited Syria since last April, meeting ministers and provincial governors to discuss possible projects.

Led by Qin Yong, deputy chairman of the China-Arab Exchange Association, a first delegation of Chinese enterprises visited Syria on April 14-21, including two members from the association and a representative from the Jiangxi Construction Group Corporation.

Meanwhile, a 12-member Chinese delegation visited on June 12-16, including representatives from Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, to discuss possibilities of partnership with Syrian government on e-governance.

Beijing hosted the "First Trade Fair on Syrian Reconstruction Projects" on July 9, at which the Chinese-Arab Exchange Association announced a US$2 billion government contribution for creating an industrial park in Syria, where initially 150 Chinese companies are expected to have a presence. The project, if implemented, will create 40,000 local jobs.

Peking University also held a seminar on "reconstruction in Syria" in which China's Special Envoy for Syria Xie Xiaoyan called on Chinese companies to participate in the reconstruction process.

In August, a Chinese delegation took part in the first International Trade Fair in Damascus since 2011.

This was summed up by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang stressing in late September that China has both the willingness and capability to play an active role in the rebuilding in Syria.

Haifa Said is chief editor of Syria Arab News Agency.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of


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