Leaders of Syria and China Announce Strategic Partnership as Part of Asian Games Diplomacy

BEIJING (AP) -- China and Syria announced the formation of a strategic partnership on Friday as Chinese leader Xi Jinping kicked off a series of diplomatic meetings ahead of the upcoming Asian Games.

Xi met Syrian President Bashar Assad in the southern Chinese city of Hangzhou, which is hosting the 15-day sports competition.

"In the face of the unstable and uncertain international situation, China is willing to work with Syria to firmly support each other ... and jointly safeguard international fairness and justice," Xi said in a video clip posted online by state broadcaster CCTV.

Assad's visit parallels in some ways that of Russian President Vladimir Putin last year for the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics. Both leaders are virtual pariahs in the West but welcomed by China as it tries to expand its global influence and promote an alternative to the U.S.-led international order.

The Syrian leader will attend the Asian Games opening ceremony on Saturday night along with the king of Cambodia, the crown prince of Kuwait and the prime ministers of Nepal, East Timor and South Korea, China's Foreign Ministry has said.

Xi also met Kuwaiti Crown Prince Sheikh Meshal Al Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah on Friday and said he would work with him to take bilateral relations to a new level, CCTV reported.

Both meetings took place at a state guest house at West Lake, a scenic tourist destination in Hangzhou that has inspired Chinese painters for centuries.

Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni arrived Friday at the airport in Hangzhou. CCTV video posted online showed him walking down the stairs from his plane to the tarmac for a red carpet welcome that included the Asian Games mascots.

Assad, who is making a rare trip abroad, is looking for ways to emerge from the international isolation brought on by a brutal war at home that shows no sign of ending after 12 years. He was expected to discuss economic assistance from China, which could play a major role in Syria's future reconstruction.

Syrian state TV quoted Assad as thanking Xi and his government for standing on the side of the Syrian people "during the crisis and suffering." China has backed Assad, using its veto on the U.N. Security Council eight times to block resolutions against his government.

Xi told Assad that China supports Syria in opposing external interference and unilateral bullying and promoting a political solution that is led and owned by Syrians, China's CCTV said.

Assad expressed hope that the meeting would be the basis for "wide-ranging and long-term strategic cooperation in all fields" between China and Syria.

The Asian Games, which have more participants than the Olympics, also sparked a diplomatic row between India and China. Three Indian athletes from Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims as its territory, refused to accept their visas and stayed home after they were given visas stapled to their passports -- different from those given to the rest of the team.

The Asian Games were scheduled for last year but postponed because of China's then-strict pandemic restrictions. China eased its restrictions in December of last year.