Robert Harneis-TDO- (FRANCE)- Chinese Ambassador to Syria Qi Qianjin has suggested Beijing could soon deploy forces to assist the Syrian Army in its upcoming Idlib offensive, in addition to anti-terrorist operations in other parts of the country.
Speaking to Syria’s Al-Watan newspaper on Thursday, the Chinese diplomat said they are monitoring the conflict, adding that the Chinese military “is willing to participate in some way alongside the Syrian Army that is fighting the terrorists in Idlib and in any other part of Syria.”
Although China has provided political support to Damascus and is widely expected to play an important role in Syria’s post-war reconstruction, Beijing has so far been careful about military support for the Syrian Army. However, since 2013 the Chinese navy have been regular visitors to Syrian waters. China has consistently supported Syria and Russia in the UN Security Council.
Chinese military attaché Wong Roy Chang told the Al-Watan newspaper there is “ongoing” military cooperation between the two countries and said China wishes to advance its relationship with the Syrian Armed Forces.
When questioned about the prospect of Chinese forces aiding the Syrian Army in its operation to liberate the Idlib Governorate, Chang said such an initiative “requires a political decision,” without elaborating.
Thousands of hardline Islamist Uyghur militants smuggled themselves and their families into Syria from China over the course of the multi-year conflict, with the bulk of them ultimately settling in Idlib province, alongside other foreign and domestic jihadists.
The Chinese government is undoubtedly concerned about the fate of these militants, as they pose a threat to China’s national security, but the deployment of a large contingent of forces to Syria would be surprising, especially as the war is nearing its end.
Whilst there is little doubt that militarily Bachar Al Assad supported by his Russian, Iranian and Lebanese allies has won the war. He still has to win the peace. Principally, this involves persuading the United States to remove its uninvited forces from the country. A growing Chinese presence will help with this and will discourage further initiatives such as the bombardment of Syrian installations by the US, Britain and France in April this year to ‘punish’ an unproven Syrian use of chemical weapons.
China with Russia are generally hostile to the Western tendency to attack weaker countries on dubious pretexts, particularly bearing in mind China’s experiences at the hands of the Western powers starting with the Opium Wars in the 1840s.
Western interventionism is unpopular with the Chinese public as evidenced by thousands of on-line comments to an article in Xinhua a photo of Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Jaafari, sitting sorrowfully in front of the window in the United Nations. Saying that the photo was taken on April 10, after Jaafari made a powerful speech against the Western powers, the article claimed that the photo reminded Chinese citizens of China’s history of humiliation by foreign countries.
“A weak country has no diplomacy,” the article concluded. “As a hundred years have passed, China is no longer that weak China, but the world is still that world.”
The Chinese move also comes at a time of heightened fears of an attack on Iran by the United States and may be a discrete reminder to the US that the Chinese government will not abandon an important oil supplier, trading partner and regional ally. China has consistently supported Iran since the Islamic Revolution in 1979 notably with missile technology and has recently opened a naval and military base in nearby Djibouti capable of holding 10,000 men.