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Craftsmanship connects China, Syria despite war

By Xin Hua in Tianjin (China Daily) Updated: 2017-02-01 07:36

Ameer Anis, a 32-year-old Syrian living in war-ravaged Aleppo, squats amid a large quantity of soap made from olive oil, marking logos on each small piece.

He works for a company that uses traditional Syrian methods to produce handmade soap.

The work continues, incongruously, in one of the cities most devastated by the nation's conflict.

The organic products are destined for China, where environmentally friendly commodities are becoming more popular and craftsmanship is prized.

Last year, about eight tons of the soap, almost one-fifth of the factory's output, were ordered by Chinese businessman Li Jianwei, who owns a trading firm specializing in products from the Middle East.

Li started his business in 1989 after getting a university degree as an Arabic language major.

"Since trade between China and the Arab world is booming, especially after the Belt and Road Initiative was proposed, our business is robust."

The Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, proposed by China in 2013, aims to build a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along ancient Silk Road trade routes.

Last year, Li paid an advanced deposit to guarantee 2017 orders.

"With the order, workers' wages can be guaranteed," Anis said.

In many parts of the country, business continues though lives are at risk, he said. Anis recalled that in June, while he was driving a truck with nearly a ton of soap to a port in Latakia for shipment to China, a roadside bomb exploded.

Anis was forced to veer away from the explosion, but he escaped injury and his cargo was unscathed.

Like other Aleppo residents, Anis and his family have had to be mindful of stray bullets and artillery fire.

Syrian rebels captured eastern Aleppo in 2012, but it was retaken recently by Syrian government troops and allied forces.

Li said goods from Syria are stringently inspected in China before being allowed on the market. "It is not surprising to find a small piece of shell fragment inside the soap," he said.

Li said the cultures of China and the Middle East have plenty in common, adding that there are many business opportunities.

He said he plans to open an Arabic restaurant in Tianjin and has invited a Syrian man in his 20s to work as the chef.

Li said he has drawn inspiration from the speech of President Xi Jinping at the headquarters of the Arab League last year, which highlighted the strong relations between the two areas.

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