In this edition of the CGTN series Leaders Talk, Zou Yun interviews Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who was visiting China for the first time in 19 years. His 21-26 September visit began in Hangzhou, where he and his wife Mrs. Asma al-Assad were among the international leaders to attend the opening of the 19th Asian Games. Talks with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping saw the two countries establish a strategic partnership and their agenda focused in particular on the Syrian people’s efforts to rebuild their country after years of war and its full return to the regional and international stage.
In the interview, President Assad was clearly touched by the warm and spontaneous welcome given by Chinese spectators to the Syrian athletes as they entered the stadium as well as by the subsequent comments by Chinese netizens on social media. Comparing the China of today with the one he saw on his previous visit in 2004, he said it had gone from being the world’s factory to being the world’s innovation powerhouse. But what was even more important than the changes was that the patriotic qualities of the Chinese people had not changed.
Reflecting on his talks with President Xi, the Syrian leader noted that China rejects hegemony and always stands with Syria politically. He felt that there was much that could be learned from the Chinese experience of modernisation as China’s own situation was once similar to that of many other third world countries. Syria and other countries, he continued, had once tried to learn from the western experience, but these attempts had proved to be unsuccessful and even counterproductive.
Turning to the current situation in Syria, Assad noted that the war is not over. The physical destruction could be addressed, as Syria had done many times in its long history, but the destruction of national culture and civilisation by western neoliberalism led by the United States, along with the related issue of extremism, was more dangerous. If Syria is rebuilt, he continued, his country will have a bright future. It had previously enjoyed high growth and low debt, was an exporter of wheat and other foodstuffs and had been developing various industries.
He praised the recent reconciliation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, which was facilitated by China, as a huge achievement and a wonderful surprise. Syria had suffered for years from the estrangement between these two neighbouring countries. According to the Syrian President, the world is now in a period of transition from the centuries of colonialism, which had begun with the “discovery” of the Americas, and which has been characterised by slaughter and exploitation. It is this transition that underlines the significance of the various international initiatives proposed by President Xi Jinping.
The full interview with President Bashar al-Assad is embedded below.