On Wednesday evening, we suggested that Vladimir Putin’s explicit promise to go ahead with airstrikes against terrorist targets in Syria with or without the help of the US effectively marks the end of Washington’s years-old effort to destabilize and ultimately remove the Assad regime.
The Kremlin's pronouncement came just a day after the mainstream media began reporting that Moscow and Tehran are coordinating their efforts on the ground (something which should come as no surprise to anyone) meaning any Sunni extremists and/or CIA-trained “freedom fighters” intent on seizing control of the country will now need to go through Russia and Iran, with the latter now seemingly willing to make the badly kept secret of its military support for Assad no secret at all.
Of course the thing about irreparably bad situations is that although they cannot, by definition, get better, they can always get worse and for the US in Syria, that would mean China showing up. Beijing has made a concerted effort this year to project the growing power and influence of the PLA navy. That effort has so far involved an unprecedented land reclamation effort in the Spratlys, a “rescue” operation in the Yemeni port of Aden, and a surprise appearance off the coast of Alaska.
(a Chinese soldier in Yemen on March 29)
Given that, and given what we know about Beijing’s support for Moscow and Tehran, the following from pro-Assad Al-Masdar news shouldn’t come as a complete surprise:
The recent arrival of the Russian Marines and Air Force to the Syrian port-city of Tartous has generated a significant amount of interest around the world, as the possibility of Russia’s direct military intervention becomes the focal point of the war on ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham).
Should the Russians begin military operations in Syria, what role with the U.S. led “Anti-ISIS Coalition” play in combatting the terrorist group? Will they coordinate with one another? Will they avoid one another?
Russia seems poised to take a similar approach to the U.S. led Coalition; however, they are not seeking the assistance of the neighboring Arab countries to combat the terrorist group.
Instead, the Russians appear to have a contingency that involves another world power that was absent from the U.S. led Anti-ISIS Coalition: China.
On Tuesday morning, a Chinese naval vessel reportedly traveled through Egypt’s Suez Canal to enter the Mediterranean Sea; its destination was not confirmed.
However, according to a senior officer in the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) that is stationed inside the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, Chinese military personnel and aerial assets are scheduled to arrive in the coming weeks (6 weeks) to the port-city of Tartous – he could not provide anymore detail.
This comes two years after China warned that turmoil in Syria could have negative implications for the global economy and 18 months after Beijing, along with Moscow, used their security council vetoes to undercut a UN resolution calling for the crisis in Syria to be referred to the Hague. Here's what China had to say at the May 22, 2014 meeting:
Mr. Wang Min (China) (spoke in Chinese): For over three years, the escalation of the conflict in Syria has inflicted deep suffering on the Syrian people and posed a serious challenge to the countries of the region and the international community. China has always maintained that all parties in Syria should respect human rights and international humanitarian law and prevent innocent people from being harmed during the conflict. China is firmly opposed to all violations of international humanitarian law or serious violations of human rights committed by all parties to the conflict in Syria. However, with regard to draft resolution S/2014/348, on which the Council voted earlier, China has some serious reservations. First, China believes that any action to seek recourse to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute the perpetrators of serious violations should be conducted on the basis of respect for State judicial sovereignty and the principle of complementarity. China is not a State party to the Rome Statute. China always has reservations concerning the referral by the Security Council of particular country situations to the ICC. This is our principled position.
Secondly, efforts to seek a political settlement to the question of Syria are encountering difficulties. The international community must shore up its confidence, remain patient and be steadfastly committed to the overall direction of the political settlement. What is most urgently needed now is to urge the Government of Syria and the opposition to immediately implement a ceasefire and put an end to the violence in order to start a third round of negotiations in Geneva so as to advance the political process and embark on a political transition. In the current circumstances, to forcibly refer the situation in Syria to the ICC is not conducive either to building trust among all parties in Syria or to an early resumption of the negotiations in Geneva. It will only jeopardize the efforts made by the international community to push for a political settlement.
Thirdly, for some time now, the Security Council has maintained unity and coordination on the question of Syria, thanks to efforts by Council members, including China, to accommodate the major concerns of all parties. At a time when seriously diverging views exist among the parties concerning the draft resolution, we believe that the Council should continue holding consultations, rather than forcing a vote on the draft resolution, in order to avoid undermining Council unity or obstructing coordination and cooperation on questions such as Syria and other major serious issues. Regrettably, China’s approach has not been taken on board; China therefore voted against the draft resolution.
Yes, "regrettably China's approach has not been taken on board" and so, more than a year later that approach might have just shifted to a strategy that involves direct military intervention on behalf of Assad.
For now, this is still in the realm of speculation as the story cited above certainly falls short of providing anything in the way of conclusive evidence for a claim that the Chinese military is set to intervene directly. That said, the last several weeks have proven that the situation in Syria is remarkably fluid and what seems far-fetched one day has the potential to become reality the next, which is why we contend that Xi Jinping very well may decide that Raqqa is as good a place as any to test out some of the equipment that was on full display in Beijing earlier this month.