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Syria will Join the Silk Road

That sums up the report on a dialogue workshop held by the Wathiqat Wattan Foundation in Damascus called “Heading East … China,” given by SANA news agency on Dec. 16. The dialogue was opened by Presidential Political and Media Advisor Bouthaina Shaaban, who is also the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of Wathiqat Wattan Foundation, and addressed by the Chinese Ambassador to Syria, with participants reported to be from both Syria and Lebanon.

Dr. Shaaban situated the discussion at the highest level. “There is a new world that is being formed not on the basis of hegemony and wars, but on the basis of scientific and technical cooperation between countries. Our role is carrying and disseminating Eastern culture and motivating societies in this direction,” she told participants. “The Arab region is witnessing a series of transitions, the most important of which is the rise of China as a global, economic, political, and cultural power, especially since China proposed several projects,” including the Belt and Road Initiative, she said, adding that workshops such as this are needed to discuss China’s role in the region and develop their own visions in order to benefit from China’s experience.

In June of 2016, Dr. Shaaban addressed the Schiller Institute’s international conference in Berlin, Germany via video hookup, and was scheduled to personally address its most recent conference in November, but was unable to attend because she had to travel to China at the last minute. According to SANA, China’s Ambassador to Syria Qi Qianjin agreed on the importance of such dialogue, and spoke of China’s interest in going towards the Middle East, where 60% of its oil and gas imports comes from, stating that China will not leave countries facing turmoil behind, including Syria. Other participants reportedly “recommended establishing universities and institutes to teach the Chinese language and promote student exchange programs to contribute to the Sino-Arab cultural intellectual rapprochement, as well as opening Chinese trade centers in Syria.”

Today {Asia Times} reported seperately that more than 30 Chinese firms have visited Syria this year, including China Energy Engineering Corporation and China Construction Fifth Engineering Division, and the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs has already approved a number of initial aid projects. During the First Trade Fair on Syrian Reconstruction Projects held in Beijing in early August, a Chinese-Arab business group announced a $2 billion commitment from the government for the construction of industrial parks in Syria.