The iron silk road

A fascinating piece (via Syria Comment) on the growing rapprochement between Beijing and Damascus. China’s ties with Iran have already been well documented; China relies on Iran for 11% of its energy supplies and is unwilling to join the US-led pressure over its nuclear capabilities. Less attention has been paid, however, to its links with Syria. Lin points out that this is all part of a general development in Chinese policy towards the Middle East, and that since the invasion of Iraq China has been pursuing diplomatic and economic engagement in order to counterbalance US power in the region: ‘the age of Chinese passivity in the Middle East is over’.

The days of Damascus as a Silk Road trading hub are not over, with some analysts viewing China’s relationship with Syria as an attempt to form a ‘bridgehead’ into Europe and its markets and also to capitalise on growing markets in Africa and the Middle East. There is even a planned ‘iron silk road’, a railway connecting Central Asia to the Middle East and Europe. (If it can get me across Turkmenistan this summer, I’ll be happy.) Just to further discomfit other powers in the region (well, the US), the new relationship works out well for Syria as well – facing isolation from the West since the Hariri assassination, perhaps it is time for them to look east.

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