China welcomes Syria's Assad, seeks to strengthen ties

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STORY: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has touched down in China…

kicking off his first visit to the country since 2004, as he makes further strides to end more than a decade of diplomatic isolation under Western sanctions.

While there, Assad is set to attend the opening ceremony of the Asian Games, along with more than a dozen foreign dignitaries.

He will then lead a delegation for meetings in several Chinese cities. He will also meet President Xi Jinping.

Being seen with China's president at a regional gathering should add further legitimacy to Assad's campaign to return to the world stage.

Syria joined China's Belt and Road Initiative last year and was welcomed back into the Arab League in May.

Faced with a crippled economy and little to show so far from his efforts to rebuild ties with Arab states, Assad is keen for financial support.

But any Chinese or other investment in Syria risks entangling an investor in U.S. sanctions under the 2020 Caesar Act, that can freeze the assets of anyone dealing with Syria.

China, like Syria's main backers Russia and Iran, has maintained relations with Damascus as others isolated Assad over his crackdown when protests first erupted in 2011.

Assad’s visit to China is one of his longest spells abroad since the civil war, which has claimed more than half a million lives, flared.

Syria, a small oil producer, holds strategic significance for China.

It lies between Iraq, a major oil supplier to China, and Turkey, the terminus of economic corridors stretching across Asia into Europe.

But analysts doubt Chinese firms are considering returning to Syria, given its poor security and dire financial situation.