Syria president arrives in China for first visit in almost 20 years

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has arrived in the east Chinese city of Hangzhou, kicking off his first visit to the Asian country since 2004 as he makes further strides to end over a decade of diplomatic isolation amid Western sanctions.

Assad arrived aboard an Air China plane amid heavy fog, which Chinese state media said “added to the atmosphere of mystery” in a nod to the fact the Syrian leader has seldom been seen since the start of a war that has claimed over half a million lives.

Assad is due to attend the opening ceremony of the Asian Games along with more than a dozen foreign dignitaries, the foreign ministry announced earlier.

In a statement on Tuesday, Assad’s presidential office said he would lead a senior delegation for a series of meetings in several Chinese cities, including a summit with President Xi Jinping.

Assad last visited China in 2004 to meet then-President Hu Jintao. It was the first visit by a Syrian head of state to China since the countries established diplomatic ties in 1956.

China – like Syria’s main allies Russia and Iran – maintained those ties even as other countries isolated Assad over the war.

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