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Bashar al-Assad on arrival in China: Slow return to the diplomatic stage

Photo: Syrian Presidency / REUTERS

In the spring of 2011, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began to crush peaceful protests in his country. This developed into a brutal civil war in Syria. Assad himself has been severely isolated internationally. Ten years later, he had Syria back under control – and began a slow return to the diplomatic stage.

Now the 58-year-old has traveled to China for the first time since 2004, landing in Hangzhou in eastern China on Thursday. There he will be present at the opening ceremony of the 19th Asian Games on Saturday. The games will last until October 8th. Athletes from more than 40 Asian nations compete against each other in 61 disciplines, including Syria.

Further normalization

According to the Foreign Ministry in Beijing, China's state and party leader Xi Jinping will also be present at the opening ceremony. Meetings and a banquet are planned with the international guests, which include Assad, Kuwait's Crown Prince Sheikh Mishal al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah and South Korea's Prime Minister Han Duck so.

With his trip, Assad is counting on a further normalization of his presidency. In mid-May, he attended a summit of the Arab League in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and thus took part in a major international meeting for the first time.

Assad was ostracized for a long time after his government cracked down on the Syrian people in the Syrian civil war. Around 14 million people were displaced during the war, and more than 350,000 lost their lives. The ruler is accused of war crimes such as the use of poison gas and barrel bombs, torture and extrajudicial killings. According to the human rights organization SNHR, 15,000 civilians died as a result of torture alone, and 150,000 were arbitrarily arrested.