This essay is part of the series “All About China”—a journey into the history and diverse culture of China through essays that shed light on the lasting imprint of China’s past encounters with the Islamic world as well as an exploration of the increasingly vibrant and complex dynamics of contemporary Sino-Middle Eastern relations. Read more ...


Traditionally, Syria has not been a strategic priority for China. Nor is it today. However, this does not mean that Beijing has been indifferent to the wide-ranging adverse effects of Syria’s disastrous civil war or to the opportunities that its postwar rebuilding might present.

China’s Syria policy derives from its broader security and economic interests in the region. Accordingly, China’s two primary policy aims are 1) maintaining a constructive relationship with a government in Damascus that is stable, friendly, and capable of preventing the spread of transnational jihadist activity from its territory; and 2) developing an economic partnership that is compatible with and in furtherance of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

In examining how China has pursued these aims during the eight-year Syrian conflict, this article makes several points: First, China, in its capacity as an emerging international conflict management actor, has in the case of Syria employed a flexible, non-directive and non-coercive approach that utilizes bilateral and multilateral channels, mediation diplomacy, and humanitarian assistance. Second, the fact that China has had very little impact on the conflict (with the notable exception of joining with Russia to thwart perceived Western efforts to oust the Assad regime) reflects its limited capacity but is also a function of a purposefully modest investment by Beijing in an instance where Chinese core interests are not directly engaged. Finally, China has held in reserve the vast economic power it can leverage, and does not appear to be rushing to make a large financial commitment to Syria’s postwar reconstruction.     

China’s Evolving Syria Policy

China’s approach to the Syrian civil war has been shaped by its longstanding declaratory policy of respect for state sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations. At the opening of the Geneva II peace conference in January 2014, Foreign Minister Wang Yi proposed five principles for facilitating a political settlement that have underpinned China’s official stance:

1. The issue of Syria must be resolved through political means.
2. The future of Syria must be decided by its own people.
3. An inclusive political transition process must be promoted.
4. National reconciliation and unity must be achieved in Syria.
5. Humanitarian assistance must be delivered in Syria and its neighboring countries.[1]

In practice, China’s diplomatic engagement on Syria has been reactive, cautious, and pragmatic. To be fair, China has displayed an unwavering commitment to promoting and supporting peace talks. Yet, the overriding aim of China’s Syria policy has been to maintain a stable and friendly government in power in Damascus.[2]

Within the UN Security Council, which has served as Beijing’s “central platform” for addressing the Syria conflict, the Chinese delegation has consistently opposed coercive measures by blocking censures, demands for ceasefires, the use of sanctions, and International Criminal Court (ICC) referral.[3] In addition, China has participated in minilateral proceedings such as the Geneva I (2012) and Geneva II (2014)[4] peace conferences and the Vienna peace talks (2015);[5] and welcomed the Astana Peace Process — launched by Russia, Iran, and Turkey in 2017 — as a “valuable supplement to the Geneva peace talks.”[6] Chinese special envoys for Middle East affairs Wu Sike and Gong Xiaosheng have dedicated much of their mandate to shuttle diplomacy on Syria, exchanging views with regional stakeholders and seeking to promote political conciliation.[7]

China’s conflict mediation in the Syrian case, as in others, has consisted mainly of top-level, high-visibility activities.[8] Though having grown more self-confident and assertive on matters of peace and security, Beijing’s continuing preference for playing a supportive rather than a leading mediation role has been borne out by the actions it has taken regarding Syria. Beijing’s sole initiative to shape the outcome of the conflict came in the form of a vaguely worded four-point peace proposal issued in 2014 that called for a phased cease-fire and a political transition.[9] 

In responding to the twists and turns of the Syrian conflict, China has had to accommodate the realities that “all the local parties” were not in fact equal and therefore could not be treated as such; and that the survival of the Assad regime could not be assured without external intervention. Thus, though having scrupulously avoided publicly taking sides in the conflict, China has not been, strictly speaking, even-handed in dealing with the warring parties.[10] Chinese officials generally avoided contact with Western- and Gulf-backed opposition groups.[11] Beijing hosted Syrian officials and opposition figures, though at different times. While continuing to emphasize the need for a political settlement, China nonetheless acquiesced to Russian military intervention for the sake of ensuring regime survival and stability in government-controlled areas of the country.[12]

Following President Xi Jinping’s January 2016 visit to the region, China stepped up its involvement in the conflict with the naming of Xie Xiaoyan, a career diplomat and former Ambassador to Iran (2007-2010), as the country’s first special envoy for the Syrian crisis.[13] The timing of Xie’s appointment coincided with a change in the course of the war as well as with sweeping measures by Beijing aimed at reducing its exposure to transnational terrorism.[14] Recall that in late 2015–early 2016, the conflict trend seemed to be running in Assad’s favor: Iranian support had surged, Russia had launched an air campaign to shore up the regime, Islamic State (IS) forces were weakening, rival armed opposition groups were plagued by infighting, and the first truce since the war began had been struck.[15] Yet, from Beijing’s vantage point, these encouraging developments were counterbalanced by growing domestic security concerns fueled by unrest in Xinjiang and perceived heightened vulnerability to transnational jihadist threats.[16]

Whereas prior to the outbreak of the war Beijing had been focused on the threats emanating from Afghanistan and Central Asia, with the rise of IS and participation of other extremist outfits in the fighting, Syria emerged as another sanctuary for terrorist groups seeking to harm China directly and/or its overseas interests. Consequently, as Lin has observed, Chinese officials came to view Afghanistan and Syria as a single interconnected “terrorist front.”[17] In their public remarks at the United Nations and elsewhere, Chinese officials have stressed the importance of preventing the resurgence of terrorist organizations in Syria.[18] They have come to regard, or at any rate have portrayed the secular nationalist Assad regime as a bulwark against Islamic extremism in the region; and they have justified Russia’s military role as “part of international counterterrorism efforts.”[19] According to Foreign Minister Wang Yi, anti-terrorism is the “foundation” of a political settlement and the restoration of peace and stability in Syria.[20]

Beijing’s decision to take a more hands-on approach to Syria was evident in August 2016, when Rear Admiral Guan Youfei of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) pledged not only increased humanitarian assistance but also military-to-military cooperation between Damascus and Beijing.[21] Yet, it is important to note that China has continued to steer clear of direct military involvement in the conflict. A story surfacing in late 2017 and picked up by numerous media outlets claimed that a Chinese special forces unit was being deployed to the port city of Tartus for counterterrorism purposes.[22] However, this runaway rumor, which Chinese officials repeatedly denied,[23] has never been independently corroborated.

In contrast, there is clear evidence of China playing a larger role in providing humanitarian aid through bilateral and multilateral channels. In his January 18, 2017 keynote speech at the UN Office in Geneva, President Xi committed China to provide $30 million in humanitarian assistance for refugees and displaced persons in Syria.[24] The next month, Chinese Embassy officials in Damascus and their counterparts from the Syrian Planning and International Cooperation Commission (ICC) signed two agreements whereby China would deliver $16 billion in humanitarian aid in two tranches.[25] That year, China also funded a $1.5 million World Food Program (WFP) initiative to feed newly-arrived Syrian refugees in Jordan.[26] In addition, China donated $1 million to the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Food Program (WFP) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) respectively, to improve food security and health services in Syria.[27]

As Hirono and others have shown,[28] these and more recent aid pledges in the case of Syria are part of a broader effort by China to raise its humanitarian profile globally. It is also important to mention that in the Chinese political discourse humanitarian aid and long-term development assistance are linked, and both are tied to peace and stability. Explaining China’s motivation for engaging Syria, foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang drew a clear connection between these elements and tied them to anti-terrorism as well as to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI):

Too many people in the Middle East are suffering at the brutal hands of terrorists. We support regional countries in forming synergy, consolidating the momentum of anti-terrorism and striving to restore regional stability and order. We support countries in the region in exploring a development path suited to their national conditions and are ready to share governance experience and jointly build the Belt and Road and promote peace and stability through common development.[29]

In February 2018, with the war winding down and the Assad regime’s survival in power all but assured, Chinese Ambassador to Syria Qi Qianjin told Xinhua News Agency: “I think it’s about time to focus all efforts on the development and reconstruction of Syria, and I think China will play a bigger role in this process by providing more aid to the Syrian people and the Syrian government.”[30]

Syria’s Reconstruction Landscape

The eight-year conflict in Syria has been catastrophic. The war has claimed over half a million lives. In addition, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of June 2019 roughly 5.6 million Syrians had fled the country,[31] and more than 6.1 million people were displaced internally.[32] The conflict has also laid waste to the country’s critical infrastructure, including the destruction of nearly a quarter of its housing stock.[33] In August 2018, a group of UN-convened experts estimated the cost of damage at more than $388 billion, and the cost of lost productivity to GDP at around $268 billion.[34] Most experts agree that it will take at least a decade to repair the war damage.

The Assad regime has retained its grip on power. The government has reasserted its control over much of the territory it had lost to armed opposition groups and foreign forces. In the short term, the regime is likely to focus on economic survival through rewarding loyalists and retaining foreign allies, rather than on comprehensive national reconstruction as such. Daher anticipates that the postwar reconstruction process will be used by the regime and its cronies to consolidate their economic and political power.[35] Heydemann concurs, referring to Syria as a “fierce state” — as opposed to a “fragile” one — and describes “reconstruction as authoritarian stabilization.”[36] Accordingly, he argues that reconstruction will likely reproduce, not transform, prewar systems of governance, political economies, and social norms. The construction of the legal architecture of this form of “reconstruction,” already underway, is exemplified by new Law No. 10, which allows the Syrian government to confiscate the property of citizens who have fled abroad if they do not lodge their claims inside the country within a year.[37]

However, the resources of the Assad regime’s “inner circle” alone are not nearly enough to finance reconstruction.[38] And the regime’s foreign allies presumably expect to be compensated for the support they have provided in the form of lucrative contracts. Iranian and Russian companies have been working to build their own constituencies within the Syrian business community.[39] Damascus has already awarded some of them investment concessions. In January, an Iranian construction firm reportedly signed an MoU to construct 200,000 housing units in Damascus.[40] The Iranian regime-connected MAPNA Group has signed agreements to build a power plant in the province of Latakia and an oil refinery in Homs.[41] Russia also has reached a deal to rehabilitate the energy sector.[42] These steps would seem to put Russia and Iran well ahead in the “race” for reconstruction business — except that the Iranian economy is in crisis and Russian financial resources are limited. For these and other reasons, Syria is likely to shop for the best terms from whichever foreign partners it can attract.[43]

But Syria’s lineup of potential suitors is limited. Even were the Assad regime open to investment from the United States, European countries, Turkey, and the Gulf Arab states — despite political differences with and mistrust of them — the interests and positions of these key foreign state actors are misaligned.[44] The US and Europe have made reforms, including a political transition, a precondition for any role in reconstruction. In addition, whereas the US position has been no reconstruction assistance unless and until Iranian forces and proxies are driven out,[45] the Gulf Arab states see reconstruction as a vehicle for competing with and possibly containing Iran.[46]

China Racing to Help Rebuild Postwar Syria?

With the fighting having ebbed, the Assad regime having retained its grip on power, and key foreign actors either at odds with Damascus or themselves at cross-purposes, China appears well positioned to participate in reconstruction projects.[47] Throughout the war, while Washington has remained focused on isolating the Assad government and blocking reconstruction aid pending a political settlement, Beijing has cultivated political ties, maintained its embassy staff in Damascus and, especially over the past two years, has laid groundwork for engaging in postwar reconstruction efforts.

Qin Yong, vice chairman of the China Arab Exchange Association (CAFA), made four trips to Syria in 2017 alone.[48] While leading a business delegation on a visit to Damascus and Homs on one of those trips (in April), Qin confirmed that a number of major Chinese companies had expressed interest in participating in infrastructure projects in Syria: [49] Three months later, Beijing hosted the “First Trade Fair on Syrian Reconstruction Projects” and pledged $2 billion for the construction of industrial parks.[50] The event was attended by 1,000 Chinese firms.[51] Meanwhile, Chinese businesses were preparing to open representative offices across Syria and dispatching frequent delegations to the country to scout for possible projects in which to engage.[52] A year later, during the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, Beijing announced a $23 billion loan and aid package, some of which can be expected to be made available to Syria.[53] More than 200 largely state-owned Chinese companies reportedly were present at the 60th Damascus International Trade Fair in September 2018.[54]

Syrian officials have not just welcomed China’s involvement in the reconstruction process but have actively solicited it.[55] In September 2017, Syrian Ambassador to China Imad Moustapha told Chinese investors: “Only China can play a leading role in helping Syria realize its reconstruction.”[56] China’s Global Times reported him later as saying that Chinese businesses and companies would receive priority in the reconstruction. [57] Speaking to al-Mayadeen TV this past April, Presidential Political and Media Adviser Bouthaina Shaaban stated that “The Silk Road is not a silk road if it does not pass through Syria, Iraq and Iran …”[58] The same month, Syrian Transport Minister Ali Hammoud “urged the necessity of encouraging and motivating Chinese companies, businessmen and investors to study projects related to the transport sectors in Syria, including the establishment of a maritime industries city between Tartous and Latakia.”[59]

The advent of the BRI and the emergence of the Levant as an alternative route to the Mediterranean (as opposed to the Suez passage) has boosted China’s interest in and focus on the development of Syrian and Lebanese ports. China Harbor Engineering Company Ltd (CHEC) has been working since 2012 to develop the Port of Tripoli — the only deep-water port in the area not under effective Russian control — so that it can accommodate larger vessels (and perhaps serve as an access point for Syrian reconstruction and trans-shipment hub).[60] Chinese investors have reportedly expressed interest in reviving the disused Homs-Tripoli railway to service the port.[61] It is important to note that these developments are occurring in the context of shifting power dynamics related to sea-borne trade and energy security in the Mediterranean, where China’s footprint has grown thanks to an investment spree that has enabled several major state-run enterprises to acquire stakes in over a dozen ports.[62] Russian oil companies are exploring energy prospects in the Levantine Basin.[63] Moscow is said to be nearing agreement on extending its lease on the Russian naval facility at Tartus, and preparing to expand it,[64] while Iran is moving to establish a permanent coastal foothold in Latakia.[65]

As Moscow and Tehran maneuver to lock in their strategic gains, Beijing faces the challenge of determining when and how much to invest in Syria’s future in light of its own regional and global ambitions. Here, it is important to emphasize that Syria’s “reconstruction landscape” is geographically fragmented and marked by deep political discord, persistent localized violence, general lawlessness, nepotism and corruption, and bureaucratic dysfunction. Undersea oil pipelines and other facilities of strategic value to the regime remain susceptible to acts of sabotage — as would reconstruction projects. There are residual pockets of IS and Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) fighters. Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have taken initial steps to localize opposition military authority and continue waging armed resistance. The likely continuation of low-intensity fighting could unleash or exacerbate other conflict dynamics, as between Turkey and the Kurds and Israel’s push back against Iranian efforts to entrench their military presence and influence. 

Given these conditions as well as the needs and priorities of the Assad regime, it seems reasonable to assume that Syria’s postwar reconstruction, now and for the foreseeable future, will take the form of expropriation and not development, and will consist mainly of discrete projects executed piecemeal rather than as part of a comprehensive national reconstruction process. In this setting, Chinese state enterprises could well find opportunities worth pursuing. It is even conceivable that Chinese private military companies (PMCs) could spring up in Syria, tasked with protecting project assets and staff.[66] 

Yet, physical security is not the only factor that is likely to temper China’s enthusiasm for plunging into Syria’s reconstruction. Concerns about wasteful spending and overstretch also obtain — two of several considerations that prompted Beijing to recently craft new rules and guidelines governing the behavior of Chinese firms overseas, with an eye toward boosting due diligence, oversight, and quality control.[67]

Were Chinese firms to engage in reconstruction projects, they also risk running afoul of US sanctions against Syria.[68] In March, the US Treasury Department (USTR) issued a global advisory warning of "significant US sanctions risks" for individuals and entities in the shipping industry seeking to do business with the regime.[69] More recently, USTR sanctioned over a dozen individuals and entities for allegedly providing financial support to the Assad government.[70] The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act passed by the House of Representatives in January, which the White House has endorsed and is currently pending in the Senate where it enjoys strong bipartisan support, would target anyone doing business with the Government of Syria.[71]

Conclusion

Since the eruption of the conflict in Syria in 2011, China’s Syria policy has been anchored in the cornerstone principle of its foreign policy, namely non-interference in the domestic affairs of other states. In practical terms, Beijing’s approach to the conflict has been driven by the conviction that Chinese economic and security interests are best served by a stable and friendly regime in Damascus that is capable of preventing the country from becoming a sanctuary or training ground for radical jihadists.

As the conflict has evolved, so too has China’s policy. Initially, Chinese diplomatic activity, centered on the UN Security Council, aimed at preventing Western-led democratic regime change. China generally followed Russia’s lead, joining with Moscow in striking down or diluting punitive draft resolutions against the Assad regime. However, Beijing, which regards Syria as less of a strategic asset and is less invested in Assad’s political survival than is Moscow, remained open to any political solution that would satisfy competing regional powers and thereby preserve good relations with all of them while averting an even wider conflagration. 

With the emergence of the self-proclaimed Islamic State as well as other jihadist elements and Syrian government forces having suffered a string of defeats, China acquiesced in the Russian military intervention that ultimately changed the politico-military trajectory of the war, but steered clear of direct military involvement. Beijing remained involved in and supportive of multilateral conflict management efforts in order to defend its interests and image, though at a modest level of investment that reflected the limited scope of its influence, the lack of great power consensus, and the war’s seeming intractability.

Although the tide of the war has turned decisively in the regime’s favor over the past three years, UN-brokered talks to produce a political solution to end the fighting have thus far failed. So, too, has the Russian-Syrian offensive to retake Idlib province and regain complete control of northwestern Syria. Fighting and instability persist even as the Assad regime and its allies have begun planning for postwar reconstruction. Indeed, the “race” for reconstruction is fraught with risks, for China as for other potential stakeholders.

Conflict and recovery are likely to unfold in tandem in Syria for many years to come. Under such circumstances, China is unlikely to rush to pour resources into the country. Instead, China can be expected to participate in Syria’s reconstruction on a scale, at a tempo, and in a manner that limits its exposure to risk while enabling it to remain in good standing with the regime and thus advance the prospects of the BRI.

 

[1] Ministry of the People’s Republic of China, “Wang Yi Proposes Five Principles to Facilitate a Political Settlement of Syrian Issue,” January 20, 2014, https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/wjb_663304/zzjg_663340/xybfs_663590/xwlb_663592/t1124573.shtml.
 

[2] I-wei Jennifer Chang,  “China’s Evolving Stance on Syria,” Middle East Institute, February 18, 2013, https://www.mei.edu/publications/chinas-evolving-stance-syria; and Shannon Tiezzi, “China at Geneva II: Beijing’s Interest in Syria,” The Diplomat, January 22, 2014. See also Michael Swaine, “Chinese Views of the Syrian Conflict,” China Leadership Monitor 39 (2012), https://carnegieendowment.org/files/Swaine_CLM_39_091312_2.pdf.
  

[3] Since 2011, China has joined Russia in casting six vetoes on draft resolutions pertaining to Syria. However, Beijing has occasionally broken ranks with Moscow, and has cast affirmative votes on over a dozen resolutions where a Security Council consensus was achieved. See Graham Melling and Anne Dennet, “The Security Council veto and Syria: responding to mass atrocities through the ‘Uniting for Peace’ resolution,” Indian Journal of International Law 57, 3-4 (2017) fn 40, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40901-018-0084-9#Fn40. See also Courtney Fung, “Separating Intervention from Regime Change: China’s Diplomatic Innovations at the UN Security Council Regarding the Syria Crisis,” China Quarterly 235 (September 2018): 693-712.
 

[4] “What is the Geneva II conference on Syria?” BBC News, January 22, 2014, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-24628442.
 

[5] See European Union External Action Service, “Final declaration on the results of the Syria Talks in Vienna as agreed by participants,” November 30, 2015, https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/5960_en.
 

[6] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, “Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s Regular Press Conference on January 20, 2017,” http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/t1432311.shtml.
 

[7] Yun Sun, “China’s Approach to the Syrian Crisis: Beyond the United Nations,” Stimson Center, December 15, 2014, https://www.stimson.org/content/china-approach-syrian-crisis-beyond-united-nations; and Cheng Guangjin, “China Cements Role as Global Mediator,” China Daily, December 28, 2012, http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/epaper/2012-12/28/content_16065082.htm.  
 

[8] Helena Legarda and Marie L. Hoffmann, “China as a Conflict Mediator: Maintaining stability along the Belt and Road,” Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), August 22, 2018, https://www.merics.org/en/china-mapping/china-conflict-mediator; and Moritz Rudolph, “China’s new era of diplomacy: engaging in Syria,” Japan Times, January 31, 2016, https://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2016/01/31/commentary/world-commentary/chinas-new-era-of-diplomacy-engaging-in-syria/#.XOXQSchKjIU. For a useful discussion of China’s distinctive mediation diplomacy, see Degang Sun and Yahya Zoubir, “China’s Participation in Conflict Resolution in the Middle East and North Africa: A Case of Quasi-Mediation Diplomacy?” Journal of Contemporary China 27, 110 (2018): 224-243. See also, Mordechai Chaziza, “China’s Approach to Mediation in the Middle East: Between Conflict Resolution and Conflict Management,” Middle East Institute, May 8, 2018, https://www.mei.edu/publications/chinas-approach-mediation-middle-east-between-conflict-resolution-and-conflict.

[9] This ‘plan’ was presented by Foreign Minister Wang Yi to UN-Arab League joint envoy Lakhdar Brahimi during the latter’s visit to Beijing in November 2012. See “China proposes new initiatives for Syria ceasefire,” Reuters, November 12, 2012, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-syria-crisis-china/china-proposes-new-initiatives-for-syria-ceasefire-idUSBRE8A00I420121101.
 

[10] Guy Burton, “Chinese Conflict Management in Libya, Syria and Yemen after the Arab Uprisings,” Asian Journal of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies 13, 1 (2019): 18-34.
 

[11] Ibrahim Fraihat and Andrew Leber, “China and the Middle East after the Arab Spring: From Status-Quo Observing to Proactive Engagement,” Asian Journal of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies 13, 1 (2019): 12.
 

[12] Yixiang Xu, “Evolving Sino-Russian Cooperation in Syria,” USIP Peace Brief 236 (September 2017), https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/2017-10/pb236-evolving-sino-russian-cooperation-in-syria.pdf.
 

[13] Foreign Ministry of the People’s Republic of China, “Chinese Government Special Envoy for Syria Xie Xiaoyan visits Syria,” April 21, 2016, https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/web/wjbxw_673019/t1357464.shtml; and Ben Blanchard, “China appoints first special envoy for Syria crisis,” Reuters, March 29, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-china-idUSKCN0WV0RG.
 

[14] See Murray Scot Tanner with James Bellacqua, “China’s Response to Terrorism,” Center for Naval Analysis (June 2016), https://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/Research/Chinas%20Response%20to%20Terrorism_CNA061616.pdf; Dawn Murphy, “China’s Approach to International Terrorism,” USIP Peace Brief 235 (September 2017), https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/2017-10/pb235-china-s-approach-to-international-terrorism.pdf; and Timothy R. Heath, China’s Pursuit of Overseas Security (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2018), https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR2200/RR2271/RAND_RR2271.pdf.
 

[15] Mollie Saltskog and Colin P. Clarke, “The U.S. Withdrawal From Syria Is an Opportunity for China,” Lawfare, February 19, 2019, https://www.lawfareblog.com/us-withdrawal-syria-opportunity-china.
 

[16] Matthew Duchâtel, “China’s Foreign Fighters Problem,” War on the Rocks, January 25, 2019, https://warontherocks.com/2019/01/chinas-foreign-fighters-problem/.
 

[17] Cristina Lin, “Syria’s Idlib Militants Eye China, Central Asia as Next Targets,” ISPSW Strategy Series: Focus on Defense and International Security 570 (August 2018), http://www.css.ethz.ch/content/dam/ethz/special-interest/gess/cis/center-for-securities-studies/resources/docs/ISPSW-570%20Lin.pdf.
 

[18] “Chinese envoy calls for preventing resurgence of terrorist organizations in Syria,” Xinhua, March 1, 2019, http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-03/01/c_137858636.htm.
 

[19] Ben Blanchard, “China’s new Syria envoy praises Russian military mission,” Reuters, April 8, 2016, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-china-idUSKCN0X50OP.
 

[20] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, “Wang Yi: Counter-terrorism, Dialogue and Reconstruction Are Three Key Points for Solving Syrian Issue at New Stage,” November 24, 2017, https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805/t1514519.shtml.
 

[21] Liu Zhen, “Chinese military to provide ‘aid and training assistance to Syrian government,” South China Morning Post, August 16, 2016, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2004676/chinese-military-provide-aid-and-trainingassistance; and Christopher Bodeen, “Chinese Admiral Visits Syria in Show of Support,” AP, August 18, 2016, https://apnews.com/ca3252c672b445b0a8318ec9d44a6b4d.
 

[22] “Chinese Night Tigers Special Forces Arrive in Syria,” Syria News, December 16, 2017, https://www.syrianews.cc/chinese-night-tigers-special-forces-arrive-syria/; Jacques Neriah, “Chinese Troops Arrive in Syria to Fight Uyghur Rebels,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, December 20, 2017, http://jcpa.org/chinese-troops-arrive-syria-fight-uyghur-rebels/#_edn1; “China to deploy troops to fight alongside Assad in Syria,” New Khaleej, appearing in Middle East Monitor, November 28, 2017, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20171128-china-to-deploy-troops-to-fight-alongside-assad-in-syria/; and Logan Pauley and Jesse Marks, “Is China Increasing Its Military Presence in Syria?: The Diplomat, August 20, 2018, https://thediplomat.com/2018/08/is-china-increasing-its-military-presence-in-syria/.
 

[23] Leith Aboufadel, “Chinese military will not deploy to Syria for Idlib offensive – envoy,” Al-Masdar News, August 20, 2018, https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/chinese-military-will-not-deploy-to-syria-for-idlib-offensive-envoy/.
 

[24] “Full Text of Xi Jinping keynote speech at the United Nations Office in Geneva,” CGTN, January 18, 2017, https://america.cgtn.com/2017/01/18/full-text-of-xi-jinping-keynote-speech-at-the-united-nations-office-in-geneva.
 

[25] State Council of the People’s Republic of China, “China to donate humanitarian aid to Syria worth $16m,” February 6, 2017, http://english.gov.cn/news/international_exchanges/2017/02/06/content_281475560526100.htm.
 

[26] “WFP, China conclude food aid programme for Syrian refugees,” Jordan Times, March 14, 2018, http://www.jordantimes.com/news/local/wfp-china-conclude-food-aid-programme-syrian-refugees.
 

[27] Haifa Said, “China’s humanitarian contribution to Syria adds to its int’l profile,” China.org, January 18, 2018, http://www.china.org.cn/opinion/2018-01/18/content_50239714.htm.
 

[28] Miwa Hirono, “Exploring the links between Chinese foreign policy and humanitarian action Multiple interests, processes and actors,” HPG Working Paper, January 2018, https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/resource-documents/12015.pdf. See also A. Draher et al., “Aid, China, and Growth: Evidence from a New Global Development Finance Dataset,” AidData Working Paper 46 (2017), https://www.aiddata.org/data/chinese-global-official-finance-dataset. This dataset tracks the known universe of overseas Chinese official finance between 2000 and 2014.

[29] Permanent Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the UN, “Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang’s Regular Press Conference on November 29, 2017,” November 29, 2017, http://www.china-un.org/eng/fyrth/t1515157.htm.

[30] “China to play bigger role in Syria's reconstruction, development process: ambassador,” Xinhua, February 12, 2018, http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-02/12/c_136967861.htm.
 

[31] UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/syria.
 

[33] “The Toll of War: The Economic and Social Consequences of the Conflict in Syria,” (Washington, DC: The World Bank, 2017), http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/syria/publication/the-toll-of-war-theeconomic-and-social-consequences-of-the-conflict-insyria.
 

[34] UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, “Experts discuss post-conflict reconstruction policies after political agreement in Syria,” August 7, 2018.

[35] Joseph Daher, “The political economic context of Syria’s reconstruction: a prospective in light of a legacy of unequal development,” European Union Institute Research Project Report, RSCAS/Middle East Directions (May 2018), http://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/60112/MED_2018_05.pdf?sequence=4.
 

[36] Steven Heydemann, “Beyond Fragility: Syria and the Challenges of Reconstruction In Fierce States,” Brookings Institution, June 2018), https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/FP_20180626_beyond_fragility.pdf.
 

[37] Leila Al-Sahami, “Syria’s Shock Doctrine,” Al-Jumhuriya, April 23, 2018, https://www.aljumhuriya.net/en/content/syrias-shock-doctrine.
 

[38] See Lujain Rabat, “Who Will Rebuild Syria: Extremely Loud  & Incredibly Close,” Modern Diplomacy, March 18, 2019, https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2019/03/18/who-will-rebuild-syria-extremely-loud-incredibly-close/.
 

[39] Sinan Hatahet, “Russia and Iran: Economic Influence in Syria,” Chatham House, March 2019, https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/publications/research/2019-03-08RussiaAndIranEconomicInfluenceInSyria.pdf.
 

[40] Maysam Behravesh, “Iran’s ambitious postwar reconstruction in Syria,” Al-Monitor, March 5, 2019, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20190305-irans-ambitious-post-war-reconstruction-in-syria/.
 

[41] “Tehran prepares for postwar Syria,” AEI Critical Threats Project, March 29, 2019, https://www.criticalthreats.org/briefs/iran-file/tehran-prepares-for-post-war-syria; and Anna Ahronheim, “Iran to lease part of Latakia port,” Jerusalem Post, April 8, 2019, https://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Iran-to-lease-part-of-Latakia-port-reports-586033.
 

[42] “Russia Plans To Help Syria Rebuild Devastated Oil, Power Industries,” RFE/RL, February 14, 2018, https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-plans-help-syria-rebuild-devastated-oil-gas-power-facilities-novak/29038665.html; and Vanand Meliksetian, “Syria’s New ‘Militarized’ Oil Companies,” Oilprice.com, January 23, 2019, https://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/Syrias-New-Militarized-Oil-Companies.html#.
 

[43] Maysam Bizaer, “Race for reconstruction heats up as Syrian war winds down,” Al-Monitor, February 1, 2019, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/02/iran-syria-cooperation-economic-agreements-trade-jahangiri.html.
 

[44] Erwin van Veen, “The geopolitics of CRU Policy Brief Syria’s reconstruction: a case of matryoshka,” CRU Policy Brief, April 2019, https://www.clingendael.org/sites/default/files/2019-04/Geopolitics_of_Syrias_reconstruction_April19_final.pdf.
 

[45] Natasha Turak, “No US assistance on Syria reconstruction until Iran is out: top US diplomat,” CNBC, January 19, 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/12/no-us-assistance-on-syria-reconstruction-until-iran-is-out-top-us-diplomat.html.
 

[46] Taylor Luck, “Postwar Syria? Arab world moving to bring Damascus back into the fold.,” Christian Science Monitor, January 19, 2019, https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2019/0117/Postwar-Syria-Arab-world-moving-to-bring-Damascus-b”ack-into-the-fold.
 

[47] Shirley Tay, “As the US withdraws from Syria, China may boost its influence in the country,” CNBC, April 4, 2019, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/04/05/as-us-withdraws-from-syria-china-may-boost-influence-in-the-country.html.
 

[48] Harvey Morris, “China extends helping hands to rebuild Syria,” China Daily, February 10, 2018, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201802/10/WS5a7e4f48a3106e7dcc13bee2.html.

[49] The companies he listed included: China Communications Construction Group, China Datang Group, China Harbour Engineering Co., Ltd., China Gezhouba Group, China Metallurgical Group, China Hydropower Construction Group, China Ordnance Industry Group, Sinosteel Equipment Co., Ltd., Chery Automobile Co., Ltd., Chenlong Aircraft (Jingmen) Co., Ltd., Shanghai Hualai Agriculture Co., Ltd.

[50] Harvey Morris, “China extends helping hands to rebuild Syria,” China Daily, February 10, 2018, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201802/10/WS5a7e4f48a3106e7dcc13bee2.html; and “Syria, China discuss investment opportunities in Syrian industrial sector,” Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), April 16, 2017, https://sana.sy/en/?p=104437.
 

[51] Zhou, “Syria courts China for rebuilding push after fall of Islamic State’s strongholds.”
 

[52] “Syrian Day held in Beijing to promote Damascus International Fair,” Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), July 10, 2017, https://sana.sy/en/?p=109748.
 

[53] “Highlights of Xi's speech at China-Arab forum,” China Daily, July 10, 2018, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201807/10/WS5b441634a3103349141e1cb7.html.

[54] “China in postwar Syria,” Belt & Road News, March 13, 2019, https://www.beltandroad.news/2019/03/13/china-in-postwar-syria/.
 

[55] Laura Zhou, “Syria courts China for rebuilding push after fall of Islamic State’s strongholds,” South China Morning Post, November 25, 2017, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2121552/syria….
 

[56] “The first Syrian reconstruction project fair was held in Beijing,” Global Times, July 9, 2017, http://world.people.com.cn/n1/2017/0710/c1002-29395150.html.
 

[57] “Syrian Ambassador to China: Chinese companies will give priority to participating in Syrian reconstruction opportunities,” Global Times, September 25, 2017, http://news.sina.com.cn/c/nd/2017-09-25/doc-ifymenmt6651586.shtml.
 

[58] “Shaaban: China’s invitation to Syria to participate in Belt and Road Forum defies U.S. sanctions,” Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), April 26, 2019, https://sana.sy/en/?p=164263.
 

[59] Tom O’Connor, Russia Not Alone in Syria’s West, China and Iran are also Moving in Near Sea,” Newsweek, April 23, 2019, https://www.newsweek.com/russia-west-syria-war-china-iran-1404051.
 

[60] Chloe Cornish and Archie Zhang, “Lebanese port eyes China as it sells itself as hub for Syria,” Financial Times, January 2, 2019, https://www.ft.com/content/386b3fd2-01db-11e9-99df-6183d3002ee1; Roshan De Stone and David L. Suber, “China eyes Lebanese port to launch investments in Syria, region,” Al-Monitor, March 29, 2019, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2019/03/china-lebanon-tripoli-port-investments-syria-reconstruction.html#ixzz5p2HTGqcP; and “Lebanon’s Tripoli port becomes central destination for weekly shipments from China to Eastern Mediterranean: director,” Hellenic News, December 27, 2018, https://www.hellenicshippingnews.com/lebanons-tripoli-port-becomes-central-destination-for-weekly-shipments-from-china-to-eastern-mediterranean-director/.
 

[61] Finbar Anderson, “China looks to invest in North Lebanon,” Daily Star, July 12, 2018, http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2018/Jul-12/456223-china-looks-to-invest-in-north-lebanon.ashx.
 

[62] Mathieu Duchâtel, “Blue China in the Mediterranean, Beyond Port Management,” ISPI 85 (February 4, 2019), https://www.ispionline.it/en/pubblicazione/blue-china-mediterranean-beyond-port-management-22161; Joanna Kakissis, “Chinese Firms Now Hold Stakes In Over A Dozen European Ports,” NPR, October 9, 2018, https://www.npr.org/2018/10/09/642587456/chinese-firms-now-hold-stakes-in-over-a-dozen-european-ports; and Ronald Linden, “The New Sea People: China in the Mediterranean,” IAI Papers 18 (July 2018), https://www.iai.it/sites/default/files/iaip1814.pdf.
 

[63] Ridvan Bari Urcosta, “Crimean Drilling Rigs Key to Russia’s Energy Policy in Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean,” Eurasia Daily Monitor 16, 83 (June 5, 2019), https://jamestown.org/program/crimean-drilling-rigs-key-to-russias-energy-policy-in-syria-and-the-eastern-mediterranean/.
 

[64] “Moscow Close To Finalizing Deal To Lease Syria’s Tartus Port For 49 Years,” RFE/RL, April 21, 2019, https://www.rferl.org/a/moscow-damascus-near-deal-on-lease-syrian-port-tartus/29894114.html.
 

[65] Seth J. Frantzman, “Iranian IRGC in Syria’s Latakia?” Jerusalem Post, May 21, 2019, https://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Iran-News/Iranian-IRGC-in-Syrias-Latakia-Report-590253.
 

[66] One of these PMCs – Shandong Huawei Security Group – has been recruiting former military, special forces and police officers from across China to be sent abroad since 2010 and has already officially deployed its forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. On this subject, see Odil Gafarov, “Rise of China’s private armies,” World Today, February/March 2019, https://www.chathamhouse.org/system/files/publications/twt/Rise%20of%20China%E2%80%99s%20private%20armies%20Odil%20Gafarov.pdf; Charles Clover, “Chinese private security companies go global,” Financial Times, February 26, 2017, https://www.ft.com/content/2a1ce1c8-fa7c-11e6-9516-2d969e0d3b65; Alessandro Arduino, “China’s Belt and Road Initiative Security Needs: The Evolution of Chinese Private Security Companies,” RSIS Working Paper 306 (August 29, 2017), https://www.rsis.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/WP306.pdf
 

[67] Jamie C. Horsley, “Challenging China to Make Good Project Governance a Centerpiece of the Belt and Road Initiative,” Working Paper, December 2018, https://law.yale.edu/system/files/area/center/china/document/horsley_china_bri-good_governance_infrastructure.pdf.
 

[68] US Government Printing Office (GPO), Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=12012c18c70ef4edfb9827fb009d0417&mc=true&node=se31.3.542_1201&rgn=div8.

[69] US Department of the Treasury, https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/syria_shipping_advisory_03252019.pdf.

[70] Ian Talley and Sune Engel Rasmussen, “U.S. Sanctions Syrian Businessman Samer Foz, Others,” Wall Street Journal, June 11, 2019.

[71] H.R.31 - Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019, https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/31/text.