The US-based Stratfor reported on August 3, 2018 that “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 attaché 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.”
The Russia-based Sputnik International also said something similar on the same day, “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 (Aug 2), 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 the Syria.”
News of this kind are not new. In Nov 2017, for example, it had been reported that since “some 5,000 fighters of Uyghur origin, an ethnic Muslim minority that the Chinese authorities regularly accuse of terrorism, have arrived in Syria illegally …. the Chinese Ministry of Defense intends to send two units known as the Tigers of Siberia and the Night Tigers from the Special Operations Forces to aid Syrian government troops.” In 2015, some Chinese military advisors had provided certain assistance to Syria “in the Western region of Latakia.”
The Stratfor’s Aug 3 report suggested that if it could be confirmed, the move would be “a substantial step forward in overall Chinese involvement in the Middle East and in a global sense as well.”
Suppose it will materialize, and although the move will be taken upon invitation by the legitimate government of Syria to act against terrorists, Chinese soldiers’ engagement in real combat not under the United Nations’ flag has numerous significant meanings which are more than those views offered by Stratfor. Yet, sensible evaluation should be done after more disclosure of the related information.
Among all the concerns, it appears that the inevitable military unification battles in Taiwan (in the early 2020s?) is probably the most important factor behind such a move as the Chinese soldiers do have an urgency to gain real combat experience sooner rather than later.
The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of China Daily Mail.