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Syria reaches out to China for post-war reconstruction

More than eights years of war have taken a heavy toll on the country's economy with the UN estimating around $388bn has been lost
According to a World Bank estimate, it could take six years of work to clear the nearly 15 million tons of debris in Aleppo alone (AFP)

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said he is in talks with Chinese construction companies to rebuild the war-ravaged country, with Beijing apparently looking to use the projects to extend its influence in the region.

Assad told Chinese broadcaster Phoenix Television on Monday that with the security situation in Syria apparently improving, he hoped Beijing's support could help create jobs for millions of returning Syrian refugees.

'It is well known that rebuilding countries destroyed partially or totally by war is very profitable and has high returns on investment' 

- Bashar al-Assad

"Now, with the liberation of most areas, we have started discussions with a number of Chinese companies experienced in reconstruction," Assad said, according to a transcript published by Syria’s state-run Sana news agency. 

The Syrian president also said he had discussed ways to "evade sanctions" with Chinese companies, and they had reportedly shown interest.

The United States imposed sanctions on Syria well before the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, but they were extended by the Obama administration after Assad intensified his bloody crackdown on protesters.

The sanctions have frozen the assets of the Syrian state and hundreds of companies and individuals, including government figures, military and security personnel and others accused of involvement in making or using chemical weapons.

They also ban exports, sales or supply of services, along with any new investments, into Syria by any US person. 

Billions lost since start of war

The UAE, a close ally of Washington, has defied US warnings against doing business with the government and associates of Assad and has forged closer ties with Damascus in recent months.

Intelligence Online, a Paris-based news and diplomacy publication, reported last year that senior Emirati businessmen close to the ruling family in Abu Dhabi had met several Syrian officials in Damascus for possible investment opportunities.

"It is well known that rebuilding countries destroyed partially or totally by war is very profitable and has high returns on investment," Assad said.

For years, China has also been trying to revive historic trade links with the Middle East through its ambitious Belt and Road initiative.

Beijing has signed contracts with Saudi Arabia and Egypt as it seeks to implement its $1 trillion overseas investment plan. It has also taken a pro-Syria stance at the UN, vetoing at least six UN proposals sponsored by the West to sanction Assad's government.

"We have proposed around six projects to the Chinese government in line with the Belt and Road methodology and we are waiting to hear which project, or projects, is in line with their thinking," Assad added.

The Syrian war has taken a heavy toll on the country's economy with the UN estimating around $388bn has been lost since fighting first started.

According to the World Food Programme, between four and five million Syrians rely on food aid each month.