Last summer, when the Syrian conflict was near its peak under the Obama administration, China unexpectedly warned it was ready to enter the proxy war when in a stunning announcement, Xinhua reported that Beijing was prepared to side with Syria - and Russia - and against the US-led alliance, and that Xi and Assad had agreed that the Chinese military will have closer ties with Syria and provide humanitarian aid to the civil war torn nation.
A high-ranking People's Liberation Army officer also said that the training of Syrian personnel by Chinese instructors has also been discussed: the Director of the Office for International Military Cooperation of China's Central Military Commission, Guan Youfei, arrived in Damascus on Tuesday for talks with Syrian Defense Minister Fahad Jassim al-Freij, Xinhua added. Guan said China had consistently played a positive role in pushing for a political resolution in Syria. "China and Syria's militaries have a traditionally friendly relationship, and China's military is willing to keep strengthening exchanges and cooperation with Syria's military," Xinhua quoted Guan.
Rear Admiral Guan Youfei
As Reuters also added at the time, China tends to leave Middle Eastern diplomacy to the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, namely the United States, Britain, France and Russia, while relying on the region for oil supplies. But over the past two years, China has been trying to get more involved, including sending envoys to help push for a diplomatic resolution to the violence there and hosting Syrian government and opposition figures.
Fast forward to today when the Syria proxy war is once again at an impasse - especially after today's warning by Macron that France would get involved after another "chemical attack" - and once again it may be up to China to be the decisive tiebreaker.
According to both Sputnik and the Daily Sabah, Moscow is once again hoping "for China's help in solving the Syrian crisis and restoring the country: Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov said Monday.
"Our cooperation with China on Syria at various international venues is unprecedented. We blocked six attempts to pass anti-Syrian resolutions in the U.N. Security Council," Morgulov said at "Russia and China: Taking on a New Quality of Bilateral Relations" international conference.
The Russian deputy foreign minister added that Russia values Beijing's position on the Syrian crisis, and hopes that, "the Chinese partners will continue their efforts to promote a political settlement."
"Together we call for a peaceful and political-diplomatic solution to conflicts, without double standards, unilateral action or attempts at ousting regimes. Our approaches coincide, among other things, on the uncompromising fight against terrorism," Morgulov said.
To be sure, Russia and China are already largely alligned at the United Nations, where the two nations have repeatedly vetoed Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions against the Assad regime. Moscow has long-standing links to the Assad regime and is its key ally, while China has an established policy of non-intervention in other countries' affairs, although as noted above that appeared to change in 2016.
Needless to say, should China break from its policy of direct foreign non-intervention, and should it indeed side with Syria, and Russia, as it hinted it would do last year, the shape of middle eastern geopolitics would change overnight. And now we await the official, or unofficial, response from China to Russia's "indecent" diplomatic proposal for a joint effort in Syria against the US-led alliance.