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China's UN envoy calls for lifting of economic sanctions on Syria

By HONG XIAO at the United Nations | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-06-17 11:31

Zhang Jun, China's permanent representative to the United Nations. [Photo/Agencies]

China's envoy to the United Nations on Tuesday criticized international sanctions against Syria and said that the war-torn Middle East nation's political future should be determined by the Syrian people.

"The future of Syria must be decided by the Syrians without further interference. It's fundamental to respect and uphold the sovereign and territorial integrity of Syria," said Zhang Jun, China's permanent representative to the UN, at a virtual meeting of the UN Security Council.

UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen briefed the council and said that with war-weary Syria in economic free fall and protesters back on the streets, all sides — domestic and international — must find a way forward that helps its people overcome their suffering and shape their own future.

Pedersen warned that the realities facing the Syrian people — more than 80 percent of whom are estimated to be living in poverty after a decade of conflict — cannot solely be addressed through constitutional talks.

With five international armies operating inside Syria, and the United States and the European Union imposing "significant sanctions", Syrian parties will be hard-pressed to resolve the country's myriad challenges without real diplomacy among key international players with influence, he said.

Zhang said that he is worried about a new round of sanctions imposed on Syria. "These sanctions will inevitability further hinder the economic and social development of Syria, as well as the livelihoods of ordinary Syrians," said Zhang.

"As vulnerable countries like Syria are struggling with the pandemic, imposing more sanctions is simply inhumane and may cause additional catastrophes," he added.

"We urged the United States to respond actively to the urgent appeal of the Security Council and special envoy and to lift unilateral sanctions immediately," he said.

In his briefing, the special envoy told the council that as Syria finds itself in the throes of economic collapse — aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic and neighboring Lebanon's banking crisis — with the Syrian lira plunging in value and inflation on the rise.

The World Food Programme warns that 9.3 million Syrians are living in food insecurity, with more than 2 million more at risk, he said.

The Chinese ambassador said he is deeply concerned by recent reports on the economic situation in Syria as "years of economic blockade have caused tremendous hardships to the Syrian people", in particular women and children, and "the suffering caused by devaluation of the Syrian currency and soaring prices of commodities, including food", said Zhang.

Zhang said China donated medical supplies to the Syria Ministry of Health earlier this month and is ready to continue offering support and help.

Zhang also called for the international community, UN agencies and countries in the region to cooperate with the Syrian government in the fight against COVID-19 and lessen the sufferings of the people.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has caused additional difficulties in the political process, Zhang said that the political process "should not stop under any circumstances".

Pedersen noted that in recent weeks, Syrians have staged street protests over a range of grievances. The increased shelling and reports of pro-government air strikes and new civilian displacements are casting a shadow over a relative state of calm agreed to by the Russian Federation and Turkey, he said, and appealed for a nationwide cease-fire again.

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