Photo’s Source: – Syria joins the Chinese BRI


The Syria-China relationship has seen notable development and complexity, particularly in the context of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Syrian conflict. Amidst the devastation of the Syrian Civil War, China has emerged as a key international partner for Syria, intertwining geopolitical, economic, and strategic interests.

Overall, The BRI is a global development strategy proposed by China to enhance international cooperation, promote economic development, and foster regional integration among participating countries. Syria, as a key nation in the Middle East, holds a vital position within the BRI, given its geographical advantage and abundant resources. This paper focuses on the cooperative relationship between Syria and China in the context of the BRI.

This article aims to demonstrate the relationship between China and Syria in the context of BRI. Firstly, it briefly introduces the relationship between China and Syria through background overview and recent progress. Secondly, it explains why Syria and China have long cooperated under BRI with the unavoidable challenges, the current cooperation in terms of politics, economy, and culture, while looking into the potential and prospects of their collaboration and the reason of Syria’s formal accession. Finally, it discusses the win-win relationship between China and Syria under BRI.

Contextual Overview of the China-Syria Relations

Sino-Syrian friendship has a long history, and the ancient Silk Road is a symbol of friendship between the two peoples. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Syria was one of the first Arab countries to recognize and establish diplomatic relations with China.

The ongoing conflict since 2011 has destroyed Syria’s infrastructure, economy and social fabric, opening the door to international influence and partnership. After the outbreak of the Syrian crisis in 2011, the Chinese government has taken the purposes of the United Nations Charter and the basic norms of international relations as the basic principles for responding to the crisis in Syria, and resolutely opposes the use of force to resolve the Syrian issue and the forcible promotion of “regime change”.

In 2018, the focus of China-Syria relations began to shift from the Syrian civil war to post-war reconstruction in Syria. As the domestic situation in Syria gradually improves and the security situation progresses slowly, the Chinese government has timely proposed to Syria to participate in the post-war reconstruction process with the “Belt and Road” Initiative. The Chinese Government has not only adhered to a policy of impartial political settlement of the Syrian issue, but has also actively participated in the United Nations-led multilateral negotiations on the Syrian peace process, and has also provided a great deal of non-reimbursable humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people (an amount which far exceeds what the Syrian government is currently able to give), since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011. And once the crisis in Syria is over, China will be considered as a priority cooperative partner for the reconstruction projects, thus highlighting the win-win cooperation feature of BRI.

Historically, on economic relations, China has been Syria’s top partner since 2019. In 2022, China-Syria trade totaled $415.98 million, with Syria exporting goods mainly soap and essential oils, and China mainly machinery, electrical machinery and equipment, and fabrics (GACC). On political relations, the two countries have had close high-level exchanges, with Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi visiting Syria in July 2021 and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visiting China in September 2023. In international affairs, from 2011 to 2020, China exercised its veto power over the issues on Syria in the Security Council a total of 10 times, calling for the lifting of sanctions against Syria and the reduction of interference in Syria’s internal affairs.

In a more recent development, the Chinese Ambassador to Syria, Feng Biao, and the Director General of the Syrian Agency for Planning and International Cooperation, Fadi Khalil, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Belt and Road Cooperation on January 12, 2022, in Damascus, on behalf of the two governments. This move symbolized that Syria became 147th country to join the BRI. Consequently, Khalil noted that the signing of the MoU would help in boosting bilateral cooperation with China and multilateral cooperation with other countries, which hope to cooperate with Syria.

Syria’s Formal Accession – a Win-Win Cooperation Relationship

As a purely economic framework for cooperation, Syria’s formal accession to the Belt and Road Initiative was in the common economic and political interest of both countries. On the one hand, for the Syrian government, which has long been subjected to sanctions and interventions by external forces since the civil war in 2011, it urgently needs a new model of cooperation in which its internal affairs are not affected. In an interview of Bashar Al-Assad by China Central Television, he mentioned that, when it (China) talks about partnership, it talks about a new principle, not about hegemony (SANA, 2023.9).

On the other hand, for the Chinese government, Syria’s geographical location on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea is very important. Moreover, through the assistance to Syria under the Belt and Road framework, it is also able to reflect that the BRI is an initiative that emphasizes equal partnership.

BRI in Syria-China Relations

Although Syria formally signed the MoU to become a partner country of the BRI in January 2022, China’s cooperation with Syria has long been implemented under BRI. In May 2017, Chinese Ambassador to Syria, Qi Qianjin, signed two documents for providing food aid and other humanitarian assistance as part of BRI with the head of Syria’s Planning and International Cooperation Commission, Imad Sabuni. On behalf of the Syrian government, Sabuni expressed gratitude for China’s humanitarian assistance and hoped to strengthen cooperation with China in various fields under the Belt and Road framework in the future (XinHua News, 2017). In April 2019, Syria participated in the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation and took part in the establishment of the Belt and Road Accounting Standards Cooperation Mechanism. Therefore, after Syria formally joined BRI in 2022, Syria’s former ambassador to China, Imad Moustapha, made remarks that, although the two countries have just signed the Belt and Road cooperation document, Syria has always considered itself a part of it (Beijing Daily, 2022).

To a certain extent, Syria’s formal accession to the BRI in 2022 further strengthens the cooperative relationship between the two countries in response to the western sanctions. The entry into force of the U.S. Caesar Act in 2020 has had a great negative impact on the confidence of Chinese companies in investing in Syria, with a total of $120,000 in divestment in 2021. As the Belt and Road Initiative is only an economic cooperation framework, it can only create opportunities for Chinese companies to invest in Syria, but cannot provide protection over it, which led to the total amount of Chinese companies’ divestment in 2022 still increasing, reaching $680,000 (MOFCOM, 2023).

In response to Western sanctions, in September 2023, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad visited China for the first time since the start of the 12-year Syria crisis, during which the two countries announced a strategic partnership. In this way, the political ties between the two countries are strengthened, and Chinese companies are able to obtain political protection for their investments in Syria, enabling the Belt and Road framework to operate soundly in Syria. In January 2024, the Syrian Cabinet authorized a Chinese company to implement a 36 MW photovoltaic project within a maximum time frame of 24 months, which is worth over 489 billion Syrian pounds (Syrian Observer, 2024).

Main Aspects of the Extended Cooperation between the Two States

  • Political cooperation: In terms of politics, Syria and China have maintained a positive relationship. The two countries support each other on issues related to their core interests and major concerns, jointly upholding international fairness, and justice. Under the BRI, they have further strengthened their coordination and cooperation in regional and international affairs based on political mutual trust.
  • Economic cooperation: Economically, Syria and China have broad areas of cooperation. China’s investments in Syria primarily focus on infrastructure construction, energy, and agriculture. With the BRI, the two countries have intensified their collaboration, jointly advancing major projects. In addition, they have strengthened cooperation in trade, investment, and finance, providing robust support for the development of both nations.

BRI could potentially act as a catalyst for economic recovery and development in Syria, given the substantial need for investments and trade enhancements. Also, post-war Syria requires massive infrastructural development, aligning with the BRI’s focus on infrastructure projects.

  • Cultural exchange and people-to-people bonds: Culturally, Syria and China share a long historical heritage. Under the BRI, the two countries have enhanced cultural exchange and cooperation, jointly organizing various cultural events to foster mutual understanding and friendship between their peoples. Moreover, they have expanded cooperation in education, science and technology, and health sectors.

Challenges and Strategies for the Future of Cooperation

The cooperation between Syria and China under the BRI holds immense potential. Firstly, Syria’s advantageous location as a vital hub connecting Asia, Europe, and Africa is beneficial for Chinese goods to access European and African markets through Syria. Secondly, Syria’s abundant resources, particularly in oil, natural gas, and minerals, offer extensive opportunities for cooperation with Chinese enterprises. Lastly, the Syrian market presents significant potential, with the gradual improvement of the situation expected to attract more investment opportunities.

To further strengthen the partnership and reduce the negative impact of western sanctions, the two countries further announced a strategic partnership the year after signing the MoU, which to a certain extent provides political protection for Chinese investment in Syria. By formally joining BRI, Syria’s need for purely economic cooperation with other countries has been met, and China has been able to demonstrate the win-win characteristic of the initiative.

Although the cooperative prospect between Syria and China under the BRI is promising, both sides face certain challenges. Firstly, the domestic instability in Syria affects bilateral cooperation. To address this challenge, both countries need to enhance communication and coordination to promote the peaceful resolution of the Syrian conflict and create a favorable environment for cooperation. Still, ongoing conflict and instability in Syria present significant risks for investments and projects. Moreover, China’s engagement with the Assad regime may draw criticism from Western nations and human rights organizations. Secondly, difficulties related to funds, technology, and human resources may arise during project. The actual implementation of BRI projects in the complex and unstable Syrian context poses numerous operational and logistical challenges.

To overcome these issues, China can leverage its advantages to provide financial, technological, and management support, while also strengthening personnel exchange training between the two countries.

Recommendations for Strengthening Cooperation

To deepen the cooperation between Syria and China under the BRI, the following recommendations are proposed:

  1. Strengthen political mutual trust, maintain high-level exchanges, and communicate and coordinate on issues related to each other’s core interests and major concerns.
  2. Increase economic cooperation, promote the implementation of major projects in infrastructure construction, energy, and agriculture, and expand cooperation in trade, investment, and finance.
  3. Deepen exchange, organize more bilateral cultural events, and promote understanding and friendship between the people of the two countries.
  4. Enhance cooperation in education, science and technology, and health, and jointly cultivate talent and promote technological innovation and public health.
  5. Jointly respond to international and regional challenges and safeguard world peace and stability.

Both sides should fully tap into the potential for cooperation, actively address challenges, continuously strengthen bilateral relations, and make greater contributions to the implementation of the BRI and the world’s development. With the continuous deepening of cooperation, the friendly relations between Syria and China will reach a new level, bringing greater benefits to the prosperity and happiness of the people of both countries and the region.


Syria has an important geopolitical value in terms of the need for a network connecting transportation routes on the Eurasian continent under BRI. Infrastructure construction, energy cooperation, industrial cooperation and seaport construction projects are the key areas of concern for China’s participation in the reconstruction of Syria.

The Syria-China relationship, especially under BRI, represents a fusion of geopolitical strategies and common interests in a complex international and regional context. While the relationship has brought significant benefits to both countries, it is also fraught with challenges and controversies, the management of which requires a delicate strategy and approach on the part of both China and Syria. The development of this relationship in the coming years, especially in the post-conflict phase of the Syrian conflict, will undoubtedly be of great geopolitical and economic significance.

In summary, the cooperative relationship between Syria and China within the BRI is increasingly closer. Significant achievements have been made in political, economic, and cultural aspects, providing strong support for the development of both countries and the region Facing the future, the cooperation between Syria and China is expected to deepen, contributing to the implementation of the BRI and the world’s economic development.


Disclaimer. The views and opinions expressed in this analysis are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of MEPEI. Any content provided by our authors is of their opinion and is not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About the author:

Jun Qiao, Yitong Li and Mingxuan Huang

Mrs. Jun Qiao is student at the Anhui University, China; Yitong Li is student at the Hainan University, China and Mr. Mingxuan Huang is student at the Yunnan University, China. They are interns at MEPEI.

Post a comment