Monday, 6 August 2018

China, Syria: Officials Say the Chinese Military Is Willing to Help the Syrian Army Retake Idlib

Both China's ambassador to Syria as well as its military attache in the country have raised the possibility of Chinese military operations in Syria alongside the Syrian government. Chinese Ambassador Qi Qianjin reportedly stated 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," while military attache Wong Roy Chang reportedly said the Chinese military could participate in an operation to retake rebel-held Idlib if Beijing made the political decision for it to do so.

It is important to stress that neither statement is a confirmation that China is about to send military forces to participate in combat operations in Syria. However, the comments, if true, would mark the closest confirmation we have had of such a possibility.

Active Chinese military involvement in Syria would mark a substantial step forward in overall Chinese involvement in the Middle East and in a global sense as well. Except for operations under the United Nations peacekeeper mandate, China has largely avoided military operations beyond its borders or its immediate region. A military operation in Syria could open the door for further such Chinese involvements around the globe.

China has also long been concerned about Uighur militants in the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) operating in Idlib. Given the extensive combat experience of TIP's Syrian branch and its significant capabilities, Beijing has an interest in seeing Uighur militants destroyed before some of them return to Central Asia or even China. Primarily for that reason, it makes sense for China to consider a more active involvement in a battle to retake Idlib.

However, even if China does participate in the campaign to retake Idlib, which is far from certain, it's involvement would remain fairly low key. China's focus in Idlib would be to see key TIP leaders and fighters killed. To that end, the most likely Chinese deployment would primarily involve military advisers, intelligence personnel and perhaps some special operations forces for specific direct-action missions. In terms of the latter, this would likely involve small-scale deployments of specialized Chinese People's Armed Police Force units such as the Snow Leopard Commando Unit, which has considerable counterterrorism experience. Still, even such a low-level commitment by China would mark a remarkable departure in the overall Chinese strategy, and would signal a new approach by Beijing to its involvement in the Middle East and further afield.

China would do well to take bolder steps than simply engaging with special forces and intelligence assets. They could send attack aircraft, but perhaps, more effectively, they could also send massed artillery units, via airlift and sealift.

The situation China and Russia found themselves facing was the threat of terrorist attacks comming from an Al Qaeda and ISIS occupation of the Syrian State. They (Russia initially) had little choice but to step in and stop the Western-backed terrorist armies.

[Posted at the SpookyWeather blog, August 6th, 2018.]

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