In an interview with Hong Kong-based Phoenix TV, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says he wants a secular country with ''freedom of religions''. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) STORY: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is in conflict with a range of rebel groups including Islamists, says Syria's government must remain secular. "If you want to talk about the future of Syria, it's mainly the political system: parliamentarian, presidential, semi-presidential, federal, confederate and so on. But the most important thing for us and for me is that the constitution and the whole system, and the country in general should be secular. Secular doesn't mean against religion. Secular means freedom of religions. The system that can include every religion, followers, every sect, every ethnicity under one umbrella which is the Syrian umbrella," Assad told China's Phoenix TV channel in an interview filmed on November 9 at a hillside house in Damascus. The Syrian civil war has killed 250,000 people, driven more than 10 million from their homes, and seen the growth of Islamic State, the world's most violent jihadist group, which controls swathes of eastern Syria and northern Iraq. China, a low-key diplomatic player in the Middle East despite its dependence on the region for its oil, has warned many times that military action cannot end the crisis. It also has its own worries about Islamist militants from its restive far western region of Xinjiang going to fight in Syria and Iraq. Assad praised China for its core values in the Phoenix TV interview. "Because the most important thing to the Chinese people now, China is one of the greatest countries in this world. And to be great country doesn't mean to have great military and great economy as well. You need to have great values. And that is what the Chinese have today. And so we look towards what the Chinese people and the Chinese government will do for our world in the future," he said. Human rights have long been a source of tension between China and the Western world, especially since 1989, when the United States imposed sanctions on China after a bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators around Beijing's Tiananmen Square.