China steps into the Syrian saga

In this file photo, China’s Rear Adm. Guan Youfei salutes to welcome then U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel upon arriving at Qingdao International Airport in Qingdao, China


China’s Adm Guan Youfei’s recent visit to Syria was a diplomatic maneuver to counter-balance US’ military and political provocations in South China Sea region. But although China’s advisors are already on the ground in Syria to train the regime forces in the use of its weapons, it will not commit warplanes or ground forces in the conflict to end up having more enemies than friends in the Middle East region.

The recent visit of China’s Rear Adm Guan Youfei to Syria may be a small step amid the ongoing conflict but will have a big influence on the outcome of talks to be held to end the crisis.

The ‘Chinese factor’, as it looks, is set to create diplomatic and political pressure on various fronts than sending warplanes to bomb IS and other terror outfits.

The move comes at a time when Russia and Iran have boosted their own military campaigns in Syria.

Amid Russia continuing its bombing on IS targets and Iran announcing the formation and deployment of a “Liberation Army” in Syria, as also in Yemen, China’s entry on the side of Assad implies that he has got on-board a ‘friend’ forced into this conflict because of its own security concerns.

China’s primary motivation is the presence of Uyghur militants operating in Syria who, if the global supporters of these groups manage to topple Assad’s government, will have a staging ground closer to Iran, southern Russia and western China. An alliance among the three countries, therefore, does make sense.

“China and Syria’s militaries have a traditionally friendly relationship, and China’s military is willing to keep strengthening exchanges and cooperation with Syria’s military,” said Rear Adm Guan Youfei, director of the Office for International Military Cooperation of China’s Central Military Commission, during his most recent visit to China.

On a wider regional scale, China’s entry alongside Russia and Iran does indicate how, at some point in future, a military block—or a regional anti-terrorism entity—might come into existence to counter the fast spreading threats of ‘global terrorism.’

Michael Maloof, a former Pentagon official, thus explained to Russia Today in an interview what China’s entry in Syria implies, “China and Russia are prominent members of what is called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization [SCO]. Iran wants to become a member. That’s 17 countries in all that are either prominent members, or partners, which also include Turkey, Iran, India, Pakistan and countries in Central Asia. It’s a large organization,” he said.

“The SCO – while it’s economic in nature – has become more of a counter-terrorism entity. And that’s where the Chinese feel that they need to be. But it also reflects the fact that the SCO gives them a greater presence and influence in the Middle East along with Russia and Iran”, he said.

Given this, the Chinese rear admiral’s recent visit to Syria can also be read as a diplomatic maneuver to counter-balance US’ military and political provocations in South China Sea region.

A diplomatic poke as it looks in the eye of the US, China’s presence does nevertheless mean that the US’ regional allies in the Middle East will be under pressure conducting ‘war business’ with one of the major investors they probably have to modernize their ‘petro-economy.’

This being the case, Russia and Iran, as also Turkey now, may try to utilize the ‘Chinese factor’ to put pressure on Saudi Arabia and its allies to stop funding terror groups in Syria and elsewhere in the region.

Given Saudi Arabia’s (poor) internal economic situation, its troubled relations with the U.S., and the fact that it is currently the second biggest supplier of oil to China after Russia, it may not be able to confront China to an extent where an important buyer may start looking for other options.

Were such a scenario to take place, the U.S. may find itself, what some analysts have called, significantly “sidelined” in the Middle East.

With Russian forces and China indicating “military assistance” to Assad, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states are now at a greater disadvantage vis-a-vis their arch rival, Tehran.

Full article: China steps into the Syrian saga (Asia Times)

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