Dragon Rising? China seeks Closer military Cooperation with Syria

By Juan Cole | Informed Comment | – –

The Arabic press is reporting that a high Chinese official on a visit to Damascus has announced that Beijing intends to strengthen its military relationship with the current Syrian government. At the same time he affirmed that China would avoid involvement in the civil war. Reuters broke the story in the West.

China has a long history of involvement in Syrian security affairs and is already doing some training of the Syrian military. But Beijing now seems intent on taking the relationship to the next level.

The news comes in the wake of reports that Russia is strengthening its own military ties with Iran and may be flying missions against fundamentalist rebels in Syria from that country.

China and Russia both belong to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which appears to see Iran and Syria as potential strategic assets in its rivalry with the US and NATO. They feel as though NATO stole Libya from them, and are determined to make a stand in Syria. The newspaper of the Chinese military said that Russia’s moves in Crimea and Syria should be studied by Chinese officers. Iran has observer status in the SCO.

The director of the Chinese Central Military Commission’s Office for International Military Cooperation, Rear Admiral Guan Youfei, made the remarks after meeting with Fahad Jassim al-Freij, the Syrian Defense Minister.

China’s Global Times quoted Hua Liming, former Chinese Ambassador to Iran, as saying that “China’s position on the Syrian crisis will not change, that is, [it will] allow the Syrians to decide their country’s destiny . . . Intervention from outside can only enlarge the crisis, so China will maintain the relationship with the government and encourage negotiations between different parties.”

The same newspaper said that “Observers said China is worried about the terrorists’ influence on religious extremists in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.”

That is, China’s interest in increasing its training of and support for the Syrian Arab Army of the al-Assad regime stems in part from fear of the hundreds of Uyghurs who have gone to join Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) or to follow the al-Qaeda operative Abu Muhammad al-Julani, leader of the Army of Syrian Conquest. They are apprehensive that these fighters will return to Xianjiang in northwest China and spread radicalism. China has about 40 million Muslims. Many are Han Chinese. But in the northwest, about 12 million Turkic Uyghurs live. The government has relocated millions of Han Chinese there to reinforce Beijing’s control, in the face of a small separatist movement. The Western intelligence agencies have been accused of stirring up the Uyghurs, as well.

The Global Times also quoted a professor of Middle East Studies at Shanghai International Studies University, Zhao Weiming, who suggested that the Syria play is payback by Beijing for perceived US interference in the South China Sea.

Professor Zhao further pointed out that China may see the Syrian civil war as beginning to wind down, given the ceasefire agreement of spring-summer 2016 (and despite its recently unraveling). It might then be an opportune time for China to put down a marker of influence in Syria without risking getting involved in the civil war or in the Iran-Saudi rivalry.


Related video:

RT: “China ‘to provide aid, enhance military training’ in Syria – top army official”

19 Responses

  1. It is good that China is getting involved on the side of legitimate authority. Hopefully the Jihadi Rebellion can be crushed so thoroughly by the time Clinton takes office that there is no effective stub of rebellion left for the Clintonites to build back out from. Hopefully this will be a total defeat for the Global Axis of Jihad and a total victory for the Coalition Of Lawful Authority.

    Things go better with COLA.

    • “Legitimate authority”? That’s not how I’d characterize Syria’s current government.

      I’d also take issue with the marketing phrases “jihadi revolution” and “Global Axis of Jihad.” Yes, a number of the rebel groups are controlled by al Qaeda or Daesh/ISIS. However, the underlying discontent being exploited by these groups was not an urge to jihad, but economic disintegration. Additionally, there is no “global axis of jihad” – no one stereotypic Bond-villain style Supreme Jihadi (with a white Persian cat i his lap) calling the shots. It’s a decentralized, “gig economy” model – far harder to stop permanently

      Your underlying point is a worrisome one for folks thinking that democracy is a good thing: authoritarian governments are on the rise, and both Russia and China really don’t care about human rights. True, the US violates human rights at times (especially under Republican Presidents) – but at least this is considered disgraceful behavior and the Democratic Party tries to stop it when they can.

      The 21st Century is starting out as the Rise of the Authoritarians – and it shows no signs of stopping. The alternative seems to be local warlords (Boko Haram, etc.) Either way, it’s grim times for personal freedom.

      • There doesn’t have to be a bond villain with a white cat. There just has to be several governments committed to exporting wahhabi intolerance and domination, and others committed to supporting jihadista violence for whatever other destabilizing reasons they might have. And the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Qatar and Erdogist Turkey all want to destroy the secular dictatorship existing in Syria before the outbreak of proxy insurgency, and put in its place a Sunni Chauvinist Suprematist regime which will offer the minorities of Syria a number of bad deals, ranging from neo-dhimitude 2.0 all the way to expulsion or extermination. And these cannibal liver-eating scum have the strong backing of the DC FedRegime and the ideological neoconservatives and neoliberals infesting several Western governments. So . . . just as immediately pre-war Italy, Germany and Japan called themselves the Axis Powers then, I think we can call the several governments backing this jihadi outbreak in Syria now to be the Global Axis of Jihad. No Bond villain with a white cat is needed.

        I think democracy is a good thing for democracies. It could be a good thing for non-democracies who desire to evolve their own version of it without any outside help or intrusion or influence. It is not a good thing when imposed at gunpoint or by subversion as part of a Western Prideful program of Forced Freedomization and Gunpoint Democrafication.

        You are correct about economic disintegration being a first-opener-of-the door to this outbreak of Wahhabi ( and other Jihadist) imperialist and colonialist aggression against the secular dictatorship of Syria and those who prefer it. And there has been an ecological disintegration underneath that, which drives the economic disintegration farther. But what can correct that and then reverse it? More jihadi violence from the Global Axis of Jihad? Or the systematic extermination of every trace of violent rebellion from within the borders of Syria, so that the legitimate ( and recognized by the United Nations to BE the legitimate ) government of Syria can regain command and control of all the land within its borders. That government can then begin re-integrating the ecology and the economy, if its leader-thinkers care to think about how the ecology and economy disintegrated to begin with.

        But first things first. And all decent civilized people supporting the R + 6 to exterminate every last trace of rebellion within Syria must come first.

    • The man who inherited power, won “elections” by 99% of the vote with no opposition and murdered 300k of his own citizens is the legitimate leader of Syria?

      By the way checkout what that legitimate leader did today to the Jihadi (Actually Marxist-Leninist but who cares about facts anyway) Kurds fighting ISIS.

      • Global Axis of Jihad may be the worst acronym ever. But it has done its job. It is now “out there”. It is inside your brain and you won’t get it back out.

        You might as well thank me for the second worst acronym ever as well. And that is of course COLA . . . for Coalition of Lawful Authority.

        Things go better with COLA. You won’t forget that one either.

  2. Any large power’s foreign policy is like a set of Russian dolls, each nested within another. The background of Orwell’s 1984 has the globe controlled by three powers in a state of fluctuating equilibrium with any two always ready to ally to outface the third. Could we be seeing this emerging? link to sputniknews.com

    • Nothing new under the sun. The Concert of Europe represented the Balance of Power that was institutionalized at the 1815 Congress of Vienna after the defeat of Napoleon. Initially, the major players were Austria, Prussia, Russia, and Great Britain. France was added later. It managed to keep Europe relatively peaceful for a century until 1914 and the outbreak of World War One.

      We have seen the Balance of Power in international relations play out as recently as 1971-72, when President Nixon and Henry Kissinger engineered the rapprochement with China. This was a classic Balance of Power move, with both the United States and china seeing it in their interest to move toward each other in opposition to the perceived threat from the Soviet Union.

      Whether something similar will occur with regard to China and Russia combining in joint opposition to the United States, in Syria or elsewhere, remains to be seen.

  3. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Putin got himself involved with unreliable allies and now wants out or the Chinese in.

    The Chinese will not put their hand in the cookie jar, in addition to the looming economic disaster in China and the US’s strategic intent to confront China through mass military build up China is still the underdog in its own backyard, entering the Syrian fray will get them nothing especially that the only leverage there is against them, half their oil imports are from Saudi Arabia which also invested 10s of billions in Petrochemicals.

  4. Dear Juan,

    You copy reports that say, ” Beijing intends to strengthen its military relationship with the current Syrian government. At the same time he affirmed that China would avoid involvement in the civil war.”

    That’s a really neat trick if they can actually do it.

    Do they accomplish it by giving equal diplomatic visits to the rebels?

    Or by shutting their eyes, covering their ears, and having an assistant pinch their nose, so that they can claim that they are somehow not cognizant of the civil war that will be intensified by their policy of ” … intend (ing) … to strengthen its military relationship with the current Syrian government … ” ???

    • Chinese arms sales to the Syrian military, thereby making a profit on the Syrian civil war and ingratiating themselves with the Russians in an attempt to gain greater Russian support for their illegitimate island and reef grabs in the South China and East China Seas. Otherwise, the Chinese have no interests in Syria.

  5. Turkish President Recep Erdogan’s recent visit to St Petersburg to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian jet fighters taking off from an Iranian base for the first time to hit Syrian targets and Erdogan’s proposed visit to Iran probably next week point to a trilateral Turkey-Iran-Russia format emerging on Syria. China seems to be entering the equation laterally as indicated by top military officer Rear Admiral Guan Youfei’s meeting with Syrian Defense Minister Fahad Jassim al-Freij in Damascus. Turkey, Iran, Russia and China have a shared interest or even need to push back at the US, each for its own reasons.

    link to atimes.com

    • Turkey can’t possibly be aboard with Russo-Iranian policy in Syria. Erdogan is famous for trying to find other bases for trade even in the face of a big policy difference.

      • Well the Syrian regime is now doing what the Turks have been wanting to do for months, bombing Kurds and not interferring with FSA factions attacking ISIS North of Al-Bab with deafening silence from the US and Iran.

        It seems that Erdogan is getting exactly what he wanted all along.

        • As the Asia Times piece (quoted above) says  Turkey, Iran, Russia and China – have one thing in common in geopolitical terms – a shared interest or even need to push back at the US, each for its own reasons, though. This can be true however temporary; a guard and his handcuffed prisoner can develop a shared interest on a hijacked plane. Assad anyway wants to clear Syria of all armed groups not actually on his side and the Kurds fall into that category. He is the legitimate ruler of Syria, whether the world likes it or not, just as Caligula was the legitimate Emperor of Rome.

  6. The Chinese are coming! Cry Havoc!
    Step back and take a deep breath, folks. And get a grip.
    OK – China is nosing around, big deal. It doesn’t change the fact we have no business in the Syrian Civil War and the defeat of ISIS will be the birth of another movement that’s main goal is to get America out of their country.
    Before going any further I suggest you go to Tom Dispatch today and read the fine repost of Andrew Bacevich’s Pentagon, Inc. from 1-27-11 and then look at Vox’s “27 maps that explain the crisis in Iraq” to get an idea what is happening.
    The least worst situation might be Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran losing a little territory to form Kurdistan, Iraq splitting into Northern Sunni Iraq and Southern Shiite Iraq but this doubtful.
    China and Russia are minor problems, Warrior Queen Hillary is about to walk away with the Presidency any all the things you hate about the Clintons ( they come in pairs, like scissors and pants) are going to become national policy.
    I think Hillary is just as delusional as Trump but we are so used to avaricious, dishonest, warmongering Neocons that she doesn’t seem as dangerous as she really is.
    Hillary and the Pentagon are the real threat to world peace, not Russia or China,.

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