As the Syrian regime army prepares to launch a campaign for the recapture of Idlib in northern Syria, the Chinese Ambassador to Damascus, Qi Qianjin, told the pro-regime daily Al-Watan on August 1, 2018 that the Chinese military would be willing to participate "in some way" in the campaign in Idlib or in other parts of the country. The ambassador expressed his support for what he called Syria's war against the terrorists, and noted that there is cooperation between the Syrian and Chinese armies. The report also quoted the Chinese military attaché in Syria as saying that the Chinese military wishes to enhance its relations with the Syrian military, and as expressing regret that Chinese Uyghurs are taking part in the fighting against the Assad regime.
The Uyghurs are a Turkic ethnic minority in China, predominantly Muslim, some of whose members seek independence for the Xinjiang province, where the Uyghur minority is concentrated. Among the separatists are members of the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), a jihadi organization seeking to establish an Islamic state in Xinjiang. TIP has perpetrated terror against the authorities in China and has also sent fighters to Syria to participate in the fighting against the Assad regime. Its fighters formerly cooperated closely with Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihad groups, and are active mainly in the Idlib area and in the Turkmen Mountain and northern Latakia region.
It should be noted that this is not the first report regarding Chinese military aid to the Syrian regime. In November 28, 2017, the Facebook page of Russia's Khmeimim airbase in Syria reported that China was planning to dispatch special forces to Syria to combat the TIP fighters in the Damascus area. However, Ambassador Qi Qianjin denied the report.
The following are translated excerpts from the Al-Watan report on the recent statements by the Chinese ambassador and the Chinese military attaché in Syria.
Chinese special forces (image: Youm7.com, December 15, 2017)
"Chinese Ambassador to Syria Qi Qianjin said to Al-Watan: "...There is positive military cooperation between China and Syria in the domain of counterterrorism. We know that the war on terror and Syria's campaign against the terrorists serve not only the interests of the Syrian people but also the interests of the Chinese people and of [all] the peoples of the world. These has been close cooperation between our armies in fighting the terrorists [who came to Syria] from all over the world, including terrorists who came from China. This cooperation between the armies and [other] relevant elements will continue in the future...'
"Asked about the possibility that his country would take part in the Arab Syrian army's upcoming campaign against the terrorists in Idlib, especially in light of the presence of Uyghur fighters [there], Qianjin replied that China 'is following the situation in Syria, in particular after the victory in southern [Syria], and its 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.'
"In a similar statement to Al-Watan, [the Chinese military attaché in Syria], Wong Roy Chang, said: "First, the Chinese government opposes every kind of terrorism... Second, we regret that some Chinese nationals, encouraged by extremist organizations, came to Syria and formed a terrorist organization [that fights] the [Syrian] citizens and government. We oppose and condemn this, and express our sorrow over the crimes perpetrated [by this organization] against the Syrian people and government...'
"Asked about the possibility that China would participate in some way in the Idlib [military] operation, the attaché said: 'The military cooperation between the Syrian and Chinese armies is ongoing. We have good relations and we maintain this cooperation in order to serve the security, integrity and stability of our countries. We – China and its military – wish to develop our relations with the Syrian army. As for participating in the Idlib operation, it requires a political decision.' He denied that there were military advisors or special Chinese forces in Syria today."