Chinese government grants to war-torn Syria.. Ambitious investments in reconstruction phase
Enab Baladi – Mais Shtian
Post-war Syria has become an arena for countries aiming to win projects in the race of the upcoming reconstruction phase.
China, Iran, and Russia are among those countries, as China has repeatedly expressed its apparent willingness to invest in re-building projects in war-torn Syria. China works on developing a more significant rehabilitation role by increasing its financial assistance and grants to the government of the Syrian regime.
In February 2018, the former Chinese Ambassador in Syria, Qi Qianjin, said in a visit to the al-Mouwasat University Hospital that his country intends to take a more significant role in post-war development and reconstruction projects in Syria. He said China would step up its amount of aid to the Syrian government, according to Xinhua News Agency, the official state-run press agency of the People’s Republic of China.
On the other hand, the government represented by Imad Moustapha, the Syrian Ambassador to China, has given promises since 2017, to give the Chinese construction companies a major role in the post-conflict reconstruction plans of Syria.
During the recent years, China showered the Syrian regime with several in cash and in-kind grants, the latest of which was a financial aid with a value of 14 million USD.
According to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on 4 March 2020, the Chinese grant came in the framework of an economic, and technical cooperation agreement that was signed by the Planning and International Cooperation Commission (PICC), which works under the supervision of the Syrian Prime Ministry, and the People’s Republic of China.
The latest Chinese grant to the Syrian regime is the fifth in a year, as the total value of the awards amounted to 400 million Chinese Yuan (approximately 60 million USD).
For his part, the Chinese Ambassador in Damascus Feng Biao expressed his country’s readiness to provide more “support and help to the Syrian people.”
What is the “expected return” of the Chinese grants?
The researcher and economic analyst Younis al-Karim told Enab Baladi that China wants to rearrange its agendas by opening up new avenues through the allocation of its capital in post-war Syria’s investments.
Al-Karim added that China’s focus on Syria is due to the latest being the gateway to investments in the Middle East region, more importantly in North Africa, and Turkey.
With the aggravation of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis in China, major multinational companies started a massive worldwide campaign aiming to hit the Chinese economy in the core, claiming that Chinese products are contaminated with the virus.
As a result, Chinese companies suffered losses of billions of dollars against European and U.S. companies such as Amazon, a leading U.S. multinational e-commerce and digital services company.
Therefore, China is seeking to compensate losses against the U.S. and Europe by transferring investments outside of its boundaries.
Likewise, the Syrian regime needs an additional global economic force like China to balance the powers engaged in the Syrian crisis.
The regime is aware of China’s vital role as a reliable ally and an economically leading country that used the “Veto right” several times against the UN sanctions to cover for the Syrian regime.
Moreover, China possesses highly advanced technical capabilities and material capacity that can achieve economic recovery in Syria.
The economic analyst al-Karim added, “China can end the Russian-Iranian economic dominance in Syria. It can contain the influence of the Russian and Iranian massive intervention inside the Syrian regime, which led to a severe division within the regime to many political wings and warlords.”
Al-Karim pointed out that the regime is stuck in a vicious circle of conflict of global powers. The Syrian government counted on the Russian intervention to contain Iranian influence; at the same time, the regime sought the U.S. and European countries’ support to reduce the Russian role. However, it failed to do so, and hence, the Syrian government found a possible ally in China.
The race for investment concessions in geostrategic Syria
Besides China, numerous countries are racing to obtain investment concessions in Syria, such as Iran, Russia, and Turkey, for the reconstruction phase is seen as a fertile ground for these countries to reap strategic objectives in Syria.
Al-Karim mentioned that Iran is seeking to be a key regional player in post-war Syria’s reconstruction development plan. Iran wants to ensure an alternative seafront to reach Europe far from the Strait of Bab al-Mandeb to evade the tensions with the American military bases there.
The economic analyst also added that Iran is searching for an easy and safe pass to transfer its goods and services through its spheres of influence, whether in Syria or Iraq, to reach Jordan and then to North Africa, Saudi Arabia, and the Arabian Gulf.
Iran’s strategic interests in Syria will enable it to negotiate its nuclear program and investments in the Mediterranean Sea, petroleum, and other regional and international issues. Thus, the Iranian regime and the “Persian dream” will be revitalized.
After the Russian annexation of Crimea, Russia sought to strengthen its naval bases in the Mediterranean Sea, most prominent of which is the Syrian port of Tartus.
Russia transformed Syria into a platform to sell its goods and services to the eastern Mediterranean countries, North Africa, and Europe.
Furthermore, Russia aimed to create a shortcut road through Syria to reduce the distances and save time, making the Russian commodity a competitive product in the global market.
The Russian Federation also wants to dominate the waterfront and control the oil tankers, whether through the Arabian Gulf and the Mediterranean Sea or from Iran and Iraq, which will enhance the competitiveness of the Russian oil.
Similarly, Russia will benefit from its investments in Syria by utilizing energy traffic revenues from the regions under its control and using them to operate its ports, thus getting double profits.
Al-Karim added that Turkey, in like manner, wants to participate in the rebuilding of Syria, to engage its construction companies in selling the necessary materials and thus achieve additional profits.
Turkey also desires through its investments in Syria, to be able to use the international highways of Damascus-Aleppo (M5) and Lattakia-Aleppo (M4) to secure the arrival of its goods and services to Jordan and then to North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean at low costs.
Al-Karim concluded that Turkey wants to “take advantage of the Syrian strategic geographical location to obtain goods and services and offer them as a support to the southern regions of Turkey. In other words, Turkey is using Syria as an investment arena to gain more profit for the Turkish economy.
Previous Chinese grants
In March 2019, the Syrian government received an award of 100 million Chinese Yuan (17 million USD) from China.
The grant has been the third of its kind since 2016, the first grant was worth 110 million Chinese Yuan, while the second grant was a 200 million Yuan. The Chinese awards intended to provide a range of needs for government departments in the areas of electricity, customs, transportation, and equipment for some ministries.
In June 2019, China provided 100 public transport buses (44- seat buses) to the Syrian government.
The Chinese gift also included five technicians who were sent to Syria accompanied by equipment to train cadres on using these buses and to make the required maintenance for them in the future, according to SANA.
Since 2017, China has sent more than four thousand tons of rice, and in 2018 it sent 800 electrical power transformers to the port of Lattakia as a grant.
In February 2018, the government called on the Chinese company, “SANY to build residential suburbs in Syria.
Furthermore, China has provided scholarships and other grants to enhance food security in Syria and organized training courses for the public and private sectors.
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