At the Jan. 29-30 Syrian National Dialogue Conference, which took place in Sochi, Russia under the sponsorship of Russia, Iran and Turkey, a major step was taken toward achieving a sovereign, united and economically revived Syrian nation, following seven years of bloody war.
The conference ended with a resolution to establish a constitutional commission, to be made up of 150 representatives of the Syrian government and all internal opposition factions. UN Special Envoy Staffan De Mistura attended the meeting as did 1,393 participants and observers (including officials from the U.S., British, and French embassies in Moscow). It was agreed that the United Nations would oversee the commission work, in accord with the Geneva process. While there was no formal representation from the Saudi-backed Syrian faction, there were a dozen individual representatives in Sochi, and Nasr Hariri, the formal head of the organization, confirmed
they would be working with De Mistura on the post-Sochi constitutional design.
While both the Islamic State (ISIS) and Al Qaeda are in the final stage of being defeated in Syria, the future of the country is dependent on significant investment in national reconstruction, once the final battles of the war have been won. ISIS and Qaeda forces are effectively encircled in Idlib Province, and many jihadists have fled the country for the Sinai, Afghanistan and the Caucasus.
At this point, the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is key. China’s Special Envoy for Syria Xie Xiaoyan, who spoke at Sochi, announced that China was “ready to take part in the postwar reconstruction of Syria.” He emphasized that the war on terrorism must continue, following the near-total defeat of the jihadis, since the threats are not fully eliminated, including those to parts of China. In May 2017, Imad Mustapha, the Syrian Ambassador to China, had estimated that about 5,000 Chinese nationals, almost all from the Xinjiang region of northwest China, were part of the separatist-terrorist Turkestan Islamic Party.
In fact, China has already stepped in economically. Beginning in Nov. 2017, they started shipping 5,000 tons of rice to Syria, using money from a fund earmarked for aid to nations participating in the BRI. Beijing has also pledged to invest $2 billion to build an industrial park in Syria, where 120 Chinese firms will operate. President Bashar Assad has announced that Chinese firms are welcome in every sector of the economy of
Syria, while Chinese leaders have made known that they are in contact with both the Syrian government and internal opposition groups.
The Syrian ports of Latakia and Tartus, in particular, are viewed by the Chinese as potential key parts of the Maritime Silk Road. Last July, China hosted a trade fair for Syrian reconstruction projects, and in Sept., at the UN General Assembly, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with his Syrian counterpart, Walid Muallem to discuss Syria’s role in the BRI. In Nov., Wang Yi met with President Assad’s personal emissary Bouthania Shaaban.