Syria has become a test case for both Moscow and Beijing it seems. Both Russia and China have sought to assert themselves militarily in Assad’s domain. That China feels it has the ability to assert power so far from its borders is important.
It should also be noted that father south, on the other side of Saudi Arabia, the Chinese have established a base in the tiny country of Djibouti at the choke point between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. (The United States, France, and get this – Japan, also have bases there practically on top of one another.)
It sounds like the Chinese government sees an opportunity to take out some Chinese jihadists who have taken up arms in Syria (China has a large and restive Muslim population in its western provinces.) But this is also a military tow dip in the heart of the Middle East for bigger reasons.
The Chinese Ambassador to Syria, Qi Qianjin, has shocked Middle East pundits and observers with statements this week indicating the Chinese military may directly assist the Syrian Army in an upcoming major offensive on jihadist-held Idlib province.
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,” the ambassador said in an interview with the pro-government daily newspaper Al-Watan, subsequently translated by The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).