China's Xi to visit Syria, with Assad

China's Xi to visit Syria, with Assad

China's foreign ministry, the foreign ministry in Beijing, said Xi will meet with foreign leaders attending the Asian Games in the eastern city of Hangzhou. The ministry said Xi will hold a welcome banquet and conduct 'bilateral activities' on Friday and Saturday.

Mohammad Samer al-Khalil, Syria's Minister of Economy and Trade, will travel with Assad, the state-run SANA news agency, a state-run news agency.

China has been improving its diplomacy in the Middle East, particularly by helping broker a detente between Iran and Saudi Arabia in March. During a visit to Beijing in June, Xi proposed an international peace conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but there has been few signs of progress on that.

The U.S.'s push toward China comes as the Middle East has become less of a priority for the U.S. It also gives Beijing more sway in the Persian Gulf, the world's biggest source of petroleum. China's campaign for the BRICS bloc to add more members last month led to the signing of top oil exporters Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt and the UAE.

In 2004 Assad visited China, just four years after he became president, when he met with former Chinese leader Hu Jintao. It was the first time a Syrian head of state has visited China since the two countries formed diplomatic relations in 1956.

The Syrian government's isolation from opponents since the Arab Spring uprisings is easing, with Assad's crackdown on opponents. In May, the Arab League nations voted to reinstate Syria, disregarding reservations voiced by the U.S.

China and Russia have blocked attempts to sanction Assad at the U.N. Security Council, prompting the U.S. and European Union to impose unilateral restrictions against him, his government and supporters. Syria's civil war has been overcome by Russia, Iran and its allies in Lebanon, as well as Iran and its allies in Lebanon.