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Syria through the looking glass

Top Syrian officials have confided to a visiting team of Russian experts that Chinese Deputy Foreign Foreign Minister Zhai Jun’s visit as special envoy to Damascus last weekend “made clear that Beijing, like Moscow, does not intend to abandon President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.” China maintains that Zhai’s consultations with the Syrian government and opposition show it is not “taking sides” in the crisis. 

The latest Chinese commentaries make the points that — Western strategy toward Syria is geopolitical; Syria and Iran form  templates of one US strategy; Western media reports of the Syrian situation are at variance with actual ground realities; Syrian opposition is divided and the regime still enjoys substantial support; reform is an imperative need in Syria but reforms cannot move forward in a climate of violence; and lastly, foreign intervention is unacceptable under any pretext.  (People’s Daily, Xinhua, People’s Daily,)    
However, Beijing is yet to signal its stance on the “Friends of Syria” meet in Tunis on Friday. It will be a litmus test of the degree of coordination between Beijing and Moscow. The Russian rejection of the FOS’ invitation came early, almost instantaneously, on Monday — while Beijing is taking time. Xinhua, though, reported on Moscow’s rejection of FOS. 
Syria would have figured, most certainly, in the discussions of Vice-President Xi Jinping during the recent tour of Washington. Xi’s host Joe Biden claimed he clocked 20 hours of conversation.  
Russia has a whole brigade of platinum grade Arabists, thanks to the great tradition of oriental studies in the Soviet Academy of Sciences. The best report on Syria — and the most authoritative so far that I’ve come across — appeared on Novosti yesterday. It is a very insightful tour report after interacting with top Syrian officials — including Vice-President Najah al-Attar and Deputy FM Faisal Mekdad, amongst others — authored by a leading Russian academic and Arabist, Prof. Alexey Pilko. Read it here

Posted in Diplomacy, Politics.

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