In the weeks since Moscow joined the fight in Syria, in the process lending Iran’s ground troops a rather powerful hand in the form of airstrikes by the Russian air force juggernaut, there have been two questions on everyone’s mind, i) how would Washington respond?, and ii) will China get involved?
As for the first question, the US has responded in the only way they could given the situation the West and its allies got themselves into: with a confused message about how the US can’t accept Russia’s invite to coordinate efforts because somehow Moscow’s involvement is going to create more terrorism.
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 any more detail.
Three days later, Pravda reported that “according to Russian Senator Igor Morozov, Beijing has taken decision to take part in combating IS and sent its vessels to the Syrian coast."
"It is known, that China has joined our military operation in Syria, the Chinese cruiser has already entered the Mediterranean, aircraft carrier follows it," Morozov allegedly said.
Needless to say, if China were to join Russia and Iran in support of Assad in military operations against anti-regime elements, it would be a further embarrassment for Washington which is keen to pretend that it can counter what’s been pitched as military aggression on Beijing’s part in the South China. That is, were China to go into Syria while the US stood by and watched, it would send a message to Washington’s regional allies in the South Pacific that other than promising to send some ships to sail around the Spratlys, there’s really not much the Pentagon can or at least is willing, to do.
But China is well aware that a dying hegemon is still a hegemon and while Beijing has made great strides over the past several years in terms of raising its presence on the world stage, simply invading Syria at the drop of a hat is a move that seems a bit too crass for Xi Jinping given his recent trip to the US and desire to promote social stability at home.
Predictably, the Chinese are now out denying the Syria “rumors”. Here’s Reuters:
China said on Wednesday it had no plans to send military ships to Syria to fight with Russian forces after reports in overseas media that it was planning to do so.
Chinese media has picked up Russian and Middle Eastern news reports that China would fight alongside Russia in
Syria, and that China's sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, could participate too.
Chinese media has also described these reports as speculative nonsense.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, when asked if China had or would send forces to Syria, told a daily news briefing that she had also noticed the reports.
"I can tell you that as for China's warships, for example the Liaoning, whether it has gone to join, for this issue, as far as I know, there is no such plan. At this time the Liaoning is in a phase of carrying out technical training and military exercises."
The Global Times, an influential tabloid run by the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily, said in an editorial on Wednesday it was "unfounded rumour" that China would interfere militarily in Syria.
"It's not China that brought chaos to Syria, and China has no reason to rush to the frontlines and play a confrontational role," it said.
Remember, China has voted with Russia on the Security Council when it comes to Syria and there is no question which side Beijing supports.
Also, note that while the Politburo’s mouthpiece may have dismissed the reports as “speculative nonsense”, the other language there isn’t quite as committal and as we saw in Yemen, the PLA occasionally shows up out of the blue in surprising places. Besides Yemen, we've seen a plethora of examples this year of the PLA navy actively seeking to showcase China's maritime prowess including a pass by the Alaska coast, the planned deployment of a nuclear sub, and of course the creation of 3,000 acres of new sovereign territory in the Spratlys. As brazen as it most certainly would be, another great way to make a splash (no pun intended), would be to send an aircraft carrier to Syria.
We'll leave you with the following headline from Interfax:
- CSTO, Iran, China agree on joint counteraction to ISIL
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Maybe they'll just send the girls from Fiery Cross...