Why China will not rebuild Syria

Author: Samy Akil, ANU and OPC A decade since the start of the Syrian civil war, debate on the conflict is shifting toward the rebuilding of the country. China is increasingly being touted as a leading candidate to address Syria’s post-conflict reconstruction at a time when Western powers and Syrian Assad regime allies seem either […] The post Why China will not rebuild Syria first appeared on East Asia Forum.

Why China will not rebuild Syria

Author: Samy Akil, ANU and OPC

A decade since the start of the Syrian civil war, debate on the conflict is shifting toward the rebuilding of the country. China is increasingly being touted as a leading candidate to address Syria’s post-conflict reconstruction at a time when Western powers and Syrian Assad regime allies seem either unwilling or unable to address the issue.

The European Union, the United States and other Western powers have ruled out investing in Syria while the Assad regime remains in power. The Biden administration has suggested that Syria will not be a foreign policy priority for Washington. And neither of Syria’s principal backers, Russia and Iran, are in a position to drive any serious reconstruction initiative.

Iran’s economy has been debilitated by the combination of COVID-19 and international sanctions, limiting its capability to fork out for Syria’s reconstruction bill. With its GDP estimated to contract at least 4.5 per cent over 2020–21, the ramifications of Iran’s economic fallout are projected to endure well into the future. Russian state coffers remain similarly depleted as the country battles deep recession compounded by Western sanctions and the pandemic.

China, in contrast, has managed the pandemic successfully and is bolstering its economy. China’s was the only major economy to record economic growth through the pandemic, expanding by 2.3 per cent in 2020 and increasing through 2021.

UN estimates in 2020 estimated Syria’s economic losses from the war at over US$442 billion, with at least US$117.7 billion in destroyed physical assets. There have been suggestions that Beijing may be looking to elevate Syria’s place in its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, citing access to the Mediterranean and the lucrative potential of various reconstruction projects. Some note that Beijing’s growing role in the Middle East will eventually encompass Syria and, by extension, its infrastructure needs.

China has on multiple occasions voiced its interest in investing in Syria’s reconstruction process. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated in 2017 that ‘only by advancing reconstruction steadily can we give the Syrian people hope and provide guarantee for the long-term peace and stability in Syria’. Chinese President Xi Jinping reaffirmed this notion two years later, claiming that ‘China stands ready to participate in Syria’s reconstruction’.

But expressions of interest differ from concrete steps. Apart from minor reconstruction pledges, peripheral aid donations — including most recently a batch of 150,000 Sinopharm vaccine doses — and small-scale investments — such as in Syria’s paltry automobile industry — Beijing has refrained from flexing financial muscle in Syria due to three major factors.

First, Syria remains fragmented. While the war has effectively been turned into a frozen conflict, large-scale military incursions are ongoing — including clashes between regime forces and the Turkish army. The potential for spillovers and sporadic flare-ups are high and likely to deter any Chinese investors interested in bringing capital to Syria. Sanctions are further disincentives, including the US-sponsored Caesar Act aimed at any foreign entities that provide funding or assistance to the Assad regime.

Second, the economic and political situation in Syria is still in sharp decline. Hyperinflation is becoming the norm. The Syrian pound is suffering from record levels of depreciation. In March 2021, it hit the grim milestone of 4000 pounds to the US dollar on the black market — from 47 pounds to the dollar at the outbreak of war. No region is being spared from soaring commodity prices, food insecurity and fuel shortages. Protests in response that call for the downfall of the regime in government-held strongholds, such as in Daraa and Suwayda, are becoming more frequent. Rumours of a transitional military council have been widely circulated within elite circles. China would not want to invest in a country whose political future is still up in the air and whose economic forecasts are dire.

Third, China’s perceived security interests far outweigh economic incentives in Syria. Beijing considers rebel-held territories in the northwest of the country ‘terrorist hotbeds’. It is especially concerned about the ethnic Uyghur fighters who have joined the al-Nusra Front (now Hayat Tahrir al-Sham), the Turkistan Islamic Party and Katibat al-Ghurba al-Turkistan. While the exact number of Uyghur fighters and jihadists is unknown, China’s special envoy to Syria Xie Xiaoyan has claimed the number to be as high as 5000. Beijing would likely rather see these fighters killed in combat; their capture or repatriation could be seen as a potential threat to their domestic national security.

This is a key pillar of China’s Syria policy. Beijing sees the Assad regime as the most reliable fighting force to combat Islamist groups on the ground, but the economic incentives to invest under his government are relatively weak. Beijing has shielded the regime on 10 occasions in the UN Security Council through its veto power and sought to provide legitimacy to Assad — all the while keeping at an arm’s length from the conflict and advocating a political solution based on mediation and dialogue.

For any substantial reconstruction effort, Beijing would need a durable political solution to the conflict. Beijing will have to wait and observe the general peace process, including what the 2021 presidential elections may bring, before taking any steps in that direction, but it is unlikely that much will change.

Samy Akil is a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies, the Australian National University, and a Non-Resident Research Fellow at the Operations and Policy Center (OPC), Gaziantep, Turkey.

This article is drawn from a recent report by Samy Akil and Karam Shaar, The Red Dragon in the Land of Jasmine: An Overview of China’s Role in the Syrian Conflict, available at the OPC.

The post Why China will not rebuild Syria first appeared on East Asia Forum.
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No Love for Myanmar Junta Leader Min Aung Hlaing in His Hometown

Dawei has had 11 people killed and 100 arrested since the Feb. 1 military takeover.

No Love for Myanmar Junta Leader Min Aung Hlaing in His Hometown

Residents of Dawei, the hometown of Myanmar junta leader Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, are ashamed of their native son for a coup that has led to hundreds of civilian deaths and thrown the country into chaos, sources in the southern port city told RFA.

The city of 150,000 between the Andaman Sea and Thailand known for beaches and tropical fruit has seen 11 people killed by security forces and at least 100 others arrested, residents of Dawei told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“Min Aung Hlaing will kill everyone regardless of where they are from. His regime will not spare the people of Dawei if they resist his rule. He only cares about maintaining his authoritarian rule,” said a protest leader, who declined to be named for safety reasons.

“We strongly oppose the military regime. We are determined to keep up the resistance to the end,” she said.

According to the Thailand-based rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) as of Friday, at least 774 people have been killed by the junta since Min Aung Hlaing seized power from leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government on Feb. 1.

“The leader of this murderous regime emerged from our region, Dawei township. This has hurt our reputation badly,” said a resident of the city, who requested anonymity for security reasons.

“I estimate that people who support Min Aung Hlaing in Dawei would be less than one percent. I think pro-democracy activists and protestors account for the remaining 99 percent,” the man said.

Despite violence and danger, activists in Dawei, capital of Tanintharyi region, say they will never stop protesting until democracy is restored.

“We have the ultimate goal of resisting this military regime. So we, the people of Dawei, will keep protesting in these streets until this regime falls,” said protest leader, who requested anonymity on fear of reprisal.

“We are not just resisting only Min Aung Hlaing. We are opposing the entirety of military rule. Min Aung Hlaing’s regime has done what all previous dictators have done,” he told RFA.

A student union leader told RFA that for the people of Dawei believe that the 64-year-old Min Aung Hlaing , doesn’t stack up to other historic local figures,  such as Ba Htoo, who led the Burma National Army to 20 victories over the occupying Japanese forces at the end of World War II.

He and other famous Dawei natives “are loyal to the country and stood for justice,” the student leader said.

Political analyst Aung Thu Nyen told RFA that unlike other leaders in Southeast Asia, Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing has delivered little to his hometown.

“We don’t see him over his career working for progress in the region,” he said, comparing Min Aung Hlaing with former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who tried to boost economic development in the northern Thai city of Chiangmai, where he was born.

“In contrast, we don’t see Min Aung Hlaing trying to improve Dawei or develop the region,” said Aung Thu Nyen.

The people of Dawei say that the military and its leader have corrupted the honor of the armed forces.

“The Tatmadaw is supposed to protect the lives of the people. They are responsible,” said a resident of Dawei who declined to be named.

“But [Min Aung Hlaing]’s regime is now doing the opposite of the Tatmadaw’s duty.  That’s why the people in Dawei don’t have a reason to forgive him, even though he is a native of Dawei,” he said.

Reported by Khet Mar and Soe San Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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