By Abdul Bari Atwan
About ten years ago, I was invited to a political symposium held in Macao near Hong Kong. Among the interpreters, there was a young Arab man with whom I had a chat. He told me that he has been living in China for 40 years now. He also told me that 40 years ago, the Chinese had only rice to eat for their three meals per day.
Their uniform clothing across the country were all made up of flax linen. But now, they have French, Italian, Japanese and Indian restaurants everywhere.
French brands and fashion design collections are exhibited at boutiques and window shops across the country.
The Chinese authorities have decided to focus their efforts on the building up of a strong economy, first. Then they moved to own military power, especially nuclear, when they were focusing their efforts on the interior front.
The young man concluded his observations by saying that he expects the next period to be one of opening up to the outside world and be a key strategic player on the global landscape, especially in the Middle East.
Reading the statement of the Chinese Ambassador to Syria Qi Qianjin, in which he said that the Chinese Armed Forces are prepared to deploy alongside Syrian Armed Forces in their anti-terror fight in Idleb or anywhere else in Syria, I have recalled what this young man, who has a Ph.D. in Political Science, has said some 10 years ago.
This statement, which seems to have been deliberately given by the Ambassador to the pro-government Syrian “al-Watan” daily, has raised many eye brows, including ours, for a simple reason: For half a century now, China has abstained from sending any troops to fight beyond its borders. In other words, it declined from being engaged in any foreign conflict throughout the period during which it has been building up its own economic and military capabilities.
Those who are privy to insider political dynamism suggest that China fears that the Islamist Uighurs fighters, hailing from China’s south-western region, might return from battlefields with a hardline al-Aqaeda and ISIS indoctrination and so, they might get involved in certain outlawed military activities as it was the case in Syria for the past seven years.
With such a statement, the Chinese authorities seem to be preparing the grounds for the deployment of some special forces or perhaps advisers to take part in the forthcoming Idleb battle to track down and liquidate own subjects enrolled in the Turkistan Islamic Party. These militants fight under the banner of the “Hayat Tahrir al-Sham” (a formerly al-Nusra Front brigade). They are highly trained and are now battle-hardened. China would not like seeing them return to the Uighur region bordering East Afghanistan.
The Chinese move has roused Erdogan’s anxiety. For a major power like China to throw its weight in Idleb battle on the Syrian Army side would translated into a strategic tilt risking heightened tension between the two sides (Turkey and China) and might escalate into a political and military confrontation.
The Turkish authorities covertly harbor the afore-mentioned Turkistan Islamic Party and it considers the “Turkic” Uighur minority as Turks representing the what it views as the Eastern side of the Turkish belt extending from China in the East and up to Istanbul in Europe.
Chinese-Syrian relations are strong. Chinese envoys never stopped visiting Damascus over the past years. President Assad made it no secret that he was impressed with the Chinese experiment on both the economic and the military levels.
It might be worthy noting that China’s Permanent Representative to the UN has never vetoed any UN resolution except twice to abort US and Western draft resolutions on Syria.
The Middle East has become the new scene for China’s strategic expansion. The Chinese Giant is promenading steadily into the Middle East brandishing its political, economic and military weaponry. Syria is the gate-way. Idleb would be the first show. And time would tell how right we are. (End)
Translated into English by Syrianfacts. However, it might be note-worthy to point out that in the meantime, several Chinese media outlets, including Global Times, have lately said that the Chinese Embassy in Damascus has issued a statement in “Chinese” denying any intention by China to deploy troops to Syria and asserting at the same time China’s support for Syria in her legitimate fight against terrorism. According to these outlets, the statement has also reiterated China’s support for a peaceful and political settlement in Syria.