President Hu said the two countries should step up exchanges in all areas, including high level contacts and political and civil exchanges. ‘We should expand economic and trade cooperation and carry out trade in infrastructure, textiles and home appliances, while at the same time giving full play to our advantages and actively develop mutually beneficial trade in other areas,’ Hu was quoted by China Central Television as saying.

President Asad seeks to modernize Syria’s economy and overcome debilitating US sanctions by adopting Chinese-style reforms. Syrian Foreign Affairs Minister Farouq al-Shara described the visit as ‘extremely successful’. Al-Shara confirmed plans to discuss ‘the Arab-Israeli conflict, the crisis in Iraq, how China sees our issues in the region and are our views identical or very close’.

Following talks, the two presidents oversaw the signing of agreements in agriculture, economic co-operation, water works, sanitation and tourism, Chinese television said.

Syrian press reports have indicated Damascus’ preference for Chinese-style reform, characterized by embracing capitalism while keeping tight control over its one-party political system. Seventy Syrian businessmen visited Shanghai last week to discuss ways of developing trade and attracting industrial investments.

Syrian-Chinese trade has grown by over $200 million since 2000 and currently totals some $320 million. Chinese exports to Syria include cars and electronic equipment, while it imports mainly food products.

Washington imposed sanctions on Syria on 11 May, accusing Damascus of supporting terrorism and failing to close its border with Iraq to insurgents. Damascus has denied the allegations.