By Vladimir Dobrynin – June 30, 2019 –According to Bashar al-Assad , the restoration of the destroyed infrastructure and cities of Syria, which are now in ruins, will cost Damascus approximately $ 200 billion, which is equal to the annual gross domestic product of Greece. Where to get such money for a destroyed country, and who can come to help her in difficult times, and why would they?
That others either cannot or will not is an ideal situation for the PRC
Although the fighting in the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic is still ongoing, Damascus considers the civil war to be largely over and focuses now on peaceful construction. While in Syria, military operations were conducted by all and for various reasons — some for the desire to help the suffering people, others to grab a tasty oil-bearing piece and make money on it — there was no shortage of promises made by people “after the war” to take part in the restoration of the long-suffering state. However, not everyone liked the results of the end of hostilities (Assad remains), and now the ranks of the “promisers” are very thin.
First of all, the European Union and the US will disappear from the participants in peaceful construction, since the first and main condition for investments of the countries of the so-called International Coalition (which, by the way, nobody invited to the Syrian war, and who tried to wreak more havoc in Syria than to bring order) was and remains the removal of the current president from power.
Since it was not possible to implement this obsession with the hands of the “democratic opposition”, that Assad will relinquish the leadership position simply out of love and respect for those who do not like him and do not respect him back, there are no reasons to expect that Brussels and Washington will take up any contemplative process. From time to time they merely step in, giving advice on “how to do”, of course from the point of view of the self-proclaimed defeaters of the “Islamic State”. At the same time, they may try to disrupt efforts to restore the SAR, as evidenced by the current US sanctions blocking Syrian exports or any financial transactions involving the national structures of Damascus.
Russia, Iran and Turkey – the three main external powers thanks to which the war against the ISIS was won (although not formally over), are interested in broad participation in the reconstruction of Syria. However, we must honestly admit that their economic power is insufficient for the rapid restoration of Syria. Financial resources are severely limited, and the sanctions imposed on them by the White House create additional problems in the implementation of the project.
That is, the situation for the entry of China into Syria is almost perfect: the United States and the EU cannot prevent the Chinese, and Russia and Iran aren’t the best position either.
Silent Return to Libya, Waiting on Big Results
The Chinese, according to the centuries-old tradition of the Celestial Empire, began not from loud head-on attacks on the situation, but from careful probing of near-constitutional regions. In mid-2018, Libyan Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Government of National Accord of Libya, Mohammed Siyal, and Libyan Charget in Libya, Wang Qiming discussed in Tripoli the return of Chinese companies to the country to resume frozen projects.
In the years when Libya was ruled by Muammar Gaddafi , Chinese public and private companies signed many contracts for the construction of infrastructure, buildings and railways with the Middle Eastern state. After Gaddafi was killed in 2011 and chaos reigned in the country, the Asian giant left Libya and froze the execution of contracts. In the second half of 2018, a return took place, which doesn’t just look like “we came to finish that we didn’t have time for reasons beyond our control” – Beijing’s desire to become one of the key players in the region is clearly readable.
The $6 million medical assistance allocated to the Libyan state by China looked more like a trial balloon and a hint for Syria than a demonstration “we returned to Libya”. From Tripoli to the Syrian border is only 35 kilometers, a suitable location of the command post to guide the landing force, whose task is to expand the once conquered springboard.
While the governments of Europe and America were withdrawing diplomatic personnel and closing embassies, Beijing signed several trade and economic cooperation agreements with Damascus. The main interest of China in Syria is steel and some natural resources. CNPC, a Chinese state-owned oil company, has already invested in General Petroleum Corporation (GPC) and Al Furat Petroleum, two of the three largest Syrian oil companies.
In addition, 200 Chinese companies participated last summer at the International Trade Fair in Damascus, and Beijing, according to data published by The Financial Times, announced it would allocate $ 2 billion in investment in Syrian industry and another $ 23 billion in the Forum cooperation between China and the Arab states. In these plans, China follows its usual model of financing infrastructure projects abroad, which are then built by Chinese contractors.
In addition to demonstrating interest in the economic sector, China has taken up the promotion of social projects in Syria, such as the supply of electrical transformers for residential buildings and the support program for the Syrian basketball team that will train in Beijing.
“China is gaining influence in the region through economic investment rather than military intervention,” said Libyan economist Kamal Hadamis in an interview with El Confidencial, assessing the Middle Kingdom in the Middle East.
Better to be a host in Tripoli, than a guest of Russia in Tartus
As the example of Libya shows, the shock wave of the “Chinese effect” in the application for the restoration of Syria may have long-term consequences not only for the latter, but for the entire Arab world.
Chinese companies have already signed contracts in the amount of $ 58 million to expand the northern port of Tripoli, which will become a special economic zone, will receive a new pier, as well as the opening and installation of six gantry cranes, according to the port administration. An object that is closer to Damascus than the Syrian ports of Tartus and Latakia, controlled and guarded by the Russian military, could be a gateway for building materials, bulldozers and excavators sent to Syria. Of course, Beijing can use the “Russian” ports in Syria, but there it will be a guest, and in Tripoli – almost the owner.
“Considering that China imports more than half of the oil produced in the Middle East, the Libyan port is a strategic interest and becomes one of the key access points to Africa and Europe for Beijing,” explains Hadamis.
According to the Libyan expert, to revive this port, China plans to build the Tripoli-Homs railway, a corridor that Beijing needs to reduce the time it takes to transport cargo and to avoid the need to pass through the Suez Canal, already clogged with ships.
The port in Tripoli, becoming the headquarters of the Chinese COSCO, one of the four largest shipping companies in the world, is thus becoming an important node of the ambitious global Chinese strategy “One Belt – One Road”, during which China intends to invest up to $ 150 billion per year in railways, highways, ports and power plants.
… And exclude Israel from the equation
With this new Silk Road, Beijing not only seeks to increase its exports and win tenders, but also wants to strengthen its geopolitical and diplomatic weight in the region – as evidenced by the fact that China chose to use the Libyan port instead of Israel to Tel Aviv. This maneuver will allow Beijing to avoid the formation of discomfort among Arab countries. And, to be honest, supplying building materials from Israel to Syria, as it would have looked like when using the Tel Aviv port, seems like nonsense.
The Asian giant will seek to replicate the success achieved in Iraq in Syria, where many Chinese companies obtained lucrative contracts for building and infrastructure development in the post-war period, and the PRC as a whole secured a new source of oil for itself.
“On the one hand, China seeks to directly invest in infrastructure assets related to the oil industry of Iraq, and on the other hand, seeks to increase geopolitical influence by participating in the reconstruction of Syria, which could become one of the key participating states of the One Belt One Road project in the Middle East,” summarizes the strategy of Asian analyst giant consulting company BMI Research in a report for 2018.