Enter the Dragon: China offers Iraq Aerial Strikes on ISIL/ Daesh

By Juan Cole | —

The list of powers eager to see Daesh (what Arabs call ISIS or ISIL) defeated grew larger this weekend with a report in the Financial Times that Iraqi foreign minister Ibrahim Jaafari received a pledge from his counterpart Wang Yi that China would intervene against Daesh from the air. It was not clear whether China was offering to fly fighter jets or just programmed missile strikes.

China is heavily invested in Iraq’s petroleum sector. It is one of the world’s largest petroleum importers after the US, bringing in 6.1 million barrels a day. In addition, China has a restive population of Muslims in its northwest and is no doubt afraid of the influence on them of Daesh (Chinese Uigurs are fighting alongside militants in Syria). China is not OK with putting Chinese army troops on the ground, but, like President Obama, is willing to intervene from the air.

China says it will not join President Obama’s ad hoc coalition, and so any bombing runs the Chinese do will be unilateral and possibly poorly coordinated.

For China to bomb Daesh targets in the Sunni Arab areas would be an virtually unheard-of deployment of Chinese military might far from its borders.

In short, China is beginning to behave like a classic capitalist imperial country, intervening with military force to protect investments, markets and trade routes. In short, Beijing now has an interest in Iraq that seems to make it willing to deploy air power to defeat Daesh.

Those protesters who chant ‘no war for oil’ may have to develop colleagues in China, which has now has spheres of influence.

Related video:

The Diplomat: “China’s Role in the Middle East”

21 Responses

  1. ” Now look boys, I ain’t much of a hand at makin’ speeches. But I got a pretty fair idea that something doggoned important’s going on back there. And I got a fair idea of the kind of personal emotions that some of you fella’s may be thinking. Heck, I reckon you wouldn’t even be human beings if you didn’t have some pretty strong personal feelings about nuclear combat. But I want you to remember one thing, the folks back home is a countin’ on ya, and by golly we ain’t about to let ’em down. Tell you somethin’ else. This thing turns out to be half as important as I figure it just might be, I’d say that you’re all in line for some important promotions and personal citations when this thing’s over with. That goes for every last one of you, regardless of your race, color, or your creed. Now, let’s get this thing on the hump. We got some flying to do.”

  2. China has a long way to go before its ability to project power matches the US’s. Consider: “Despite the impressive progress in its military modernization in recent years, it should be remembered that China’s global military footprint actually remains very limited. It has no foreign bases or troops stationed abroad (except under UN auspices)…Other than cyber warfare, its space program, and intercontinental ballistic missiles, it has no global power-projection capabilities. To be certain, these are not insignificant capabilities, but China’s air and ground forces cannot operate away from China’s immediate periphery, and the naval forces have very limited deployment capacity beyond China’s ‘near seas’.” link to detailedpoliticalquizzes.wordpress.com

    • Fascinating fact from the detailedpoliticalquizzes link: “When China had to evacuate 35,000 civilians from Libya in 2011, it had to rely completely on leased ships, ferries, and civilian aircraft from neighboring countries – as it did not have the air or naval capacity to deploy that far and did not possess military base arrangements in the Mediterranean region.”

      • China has also articulated that it would like to see a new type of global leadership in which it and US cooperate to solve world problems. China has no foreign military bases, as you point out. The China hysteria in this country is ill-founded. Of course, China is building up its military. It’s progress in the last 40 years is certainly something it wants to protect. It does not expect US to pull out of E. Asia rapidly, but it will certain pursue a path of Chinese hegemony in that area. China is flexing its muscles as any rising nation (a/k/a US) does. But it holds out development and ‘peaceful co-existence’ as imperatives. The talk about aggression in the South China Sea is severely overblown. China has and continues seeking treaties with its neighbors and has an overpowering self-interest in keeping sea lanes open.

  3. Adding China “air-power” to the anti-Daesh actions would be a major expansion of the conflict for natural resources of the region.

  4. (In short, China) is beginning to behave like a classic capitalist imperial country, intervening with military force to protect investments, markets and trade routes.

    Add that to the other immutables of the human condition – death and taxes.

  5. I read the RT article, and got the impression that the Chinese were talking more about providing materiel assistance to the Iraqi military (IE selling/donating drones, missiles, maybe light strike aircraft) rather than direct military intervention. Unless someone’s seen information to the contrary?

  6. Watch your backs. PM Harper sold Canada to Communist China with his FIPPA deal, for 31 gawd awful years. This FIPPA deal with China was so secret, China and Harper met in Russia to plot their evil dastardly deal.

  7. New here, just found this. Please forgive my ignorance when I ask this: is there any long term concerns in the prededent this sets for China, and also, would this establish physical enviornments for China (a toe hold) for potential maneuverings in the future? I have heard China has been acquiring land (islands) to extend their potential dominance of the SLOCs in the Pacific. One report said they dumbed concrete, other, just to make an island at low tide (I simplify) and stake claim thus giving them xxx diamater of sovereignty at that spot, and others. As I hear so often, “I’m just saying…”

    Happy Holidays! Captain America, I like your style buddy! The ones in it to win don’t want recognition, in fact, recognition can be deadly at times :) I have a gut feeling you know all that… Your post was fun!

    Glad I ran across this site. greg
    Spelling and grammar courtesy of,,, ok ME, and an ipad while mobile.

  8. I think the notion that China is flexing muscles is almost certain to come to reality in the this century, my concern is wether or not the ‘international community’ could accomodate it and what form it might take (how will Japan react?). China was the first target of what became the ‘axis’ forces in the post WW1 period, for China WW1 was simply the catastrophy that did not end until 1989.
    China (like Russia) is a precarious mix of traditional enemies and nations forced to live under an overarching (some might say overbearing) central government which values stability (its version) over the forces of different opinons and views (Chinese muslims, Hong Cong democrats etc). I believe that these comments are likely to be aimed more at disheartening opinion at home and heartening Iranian forces who look to China as a friend. IS sees the world in its own good versus evil battle. We do the same ourselves, it is a natural human quality (dare I call IS human….? Is that thoughtcrime?) The religious values they follow are working with genuine political power (Maliki lost all the political trust the US bought for Iraqi shia’s from the sunni/ex-baathist bloc), IS has only appeared to become powerful because they now front a cutural viewpoint which is much older than anyone seems to be able to grasp, I mean these families used to run this country for the Ottomans!!! Whatever might happen to ‘IS’ or the ‘Caliph’ does not matter, IS is clever because they are shaping opinion of the region to be eternally sympathetic to their political/cultural views; thus Chinas Uighurs problem. When these downtrodden people make the long trek home, they might be able to tell tales of their exploits and breed instability, which for Beijing is too much for their false atheism to handle. So like every other country, they bluster, stumble, bomb and torture (because of fear), rather than force themselves to simply understand, these people want liberty, just like us, its why they are fighting us and why they are fleeing to us. Fighting proxy-war, peripheral-war, asymetrical-war etc just will not work!!!! Torture does not work! Violence as a way to change opinion does NOT work!!!! As Ghandi put it ‘You may kill me, and you will have my body, but YOU WILL NOT HAVE MY COMPLIENCE’. This goes for IS and China and US and any other so called political force, one day all of this will be gone, turned to dust and forgotten, why wont you learn THIS does not matter!! Jihadi John take heed, you are driving devout people away, is this jihad? You ensure people are discusted by your actions and so will never convert, is this Jihad? Did God tell mohammad (pbuh) to get defencless people and cut off their heads in the desert? Did God tell Obama that the best way to heal Iraq was to ensure its future division by bombing Sunnis and helping its so called Shia enemy Iran. Its all madness and it will drag us all down!!! It has to stop

    End of rant.

  9. This is fascinating as historically it breaks totally new ground. As such I’d say that the Chinese are very big on symbolism and it is telling the West that it will defend its economic interests abroad. Specifically, I believe it is telling the West that when push comes to shove it will defend its now largest economic interest: Russia.

  10. I wouldn’t read too much into it, protecting your property is as old as time and for China, whose investments are state directed, commercial interests are just that. At the same time, few nations are happy with the hack handed way the US is trying to lead against ISIL, or the ambiguities of many US partners. One would like to think the US knows what it’s doing but increasingly it looks like patients have taken over a psychiatric ward.

  11. This is a fulfillment of many agendas.

    But in fact, America’s overextended empire may already serve China better than its own citizens. Our military is expected to “civilize” the natives of obscure corners of the world to prepare them for foreign investors, presumably American. But what if Wall Street has lost control of the process? What if it has become too lazy and cowardly to risk following the troops into these lands? The Chinese aren’t afraid to get people killed making deals anywhere on Earth. We claim victory, and Chinese men come with briefcases full of gold to ensnare the local warlords by nightfall.

    This is logical. Declining empires always try to cling to their military advantages while betraying the economic virtues that originally made them powerful. Britain’s empire probably made a lot of American hustlers rich in its latter days.

    But if that is true, then China must be prepared for the day it will have to take care of itself. America prepared in 1898-1900 with operations all over the world, the Spanish-American War, the Philipine Insurrection, the Boxer Rebellion. Ironic that China’s Boxer Rebellion most resembles the ISIS situation, with the “mainstream” powers obligated to unite to crush a barbaric but not unjustified reactionary uprising.

    But this may also be a coming-out party for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. China is joining the Russian-Iranian regional alliance. Iran has observer status at the SCO, but has been too hot to touch up to now. The other SCO members are being passed from the old Soviet Union to the Chinese energy empire, just out of America’s grasp. They all share this fear of Sunni radicalism. Maybe Uzbek and Turkmen infantry are coming next?

    • Nice analysis. The global oil price drop is going to vex Putin and scramble his plans while giving China more leverage in energy consumption and infrastructure development at an advantageous time for their economy.

      If the US can smarten up a little and transition to a renewable energy driven economy ASAP, we might dodge some of the resource wars (at least the ones we’re not already in!).

      Dr. Cole’s perspective is invaluable, especially when compared to the piffle and noise the once great American news media dribble out between pimping the latest entertainment snooze.

  12. “once great American news media”?
    They had their moments on some domestic reporting–“Harvest of Shame” and such–but at the strategic international level they have been PR fronts for the war criminals who controlled things since the Wilson administration. The CFR made the policy no matter who was elected and the media missed this except for a single editorial in the Chicago Tribune in the early 50s. Recall Duranty of the NY Times dispatching puff pieces for Stalin at the same time there was mass murder in Ukraine. And he got a Pulitzer Prize! Nothing has changed.

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