Syrian President Bashar al-Assad arrived Thursday in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou, his first visit in nearly two decades.

China is the third non-Arab country Assad has visited during the years of the ongoing crisis in Syria since 2011, after Russia and Iran.

China's Foreign Ministry said earlier that Bashar al-Assad was due to attend the opening ceremony of the Asian Games on Saturday with foreign dignitaries.

The Syrian presidential office said in a statement that Assad would lead a high-level delegation in a series of meetings in several Chinese cities, including what it called a summit meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Assad visited China in 2004 to meet then-Chinese President Hu Jintao. It was the first visit by a Syrian president to China since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1956.

China has supported the Syrian regime in international forums and the UN Security Council, abstaining several times from voting on resolutions condemning it during the war years, and using its veto power on Russia's side to stop these resolutions.

Observers believe that Syria is of strategic importance to Beijing due to its geographical location next to Iraq, where about 10% of Chinese oil comes from, and Turkey, which represents the end of economic corridors stretching through Asia to Europe.

Others see Assad's visit to China as a new step to end more than a decade of diplomatic isolation and as part of efforts to secure support for the reconstruction of Syria, large parts of which have been ravaged by the war.