The presence of its naval ships in the Mediterranean Sea is fuelling speculation that China may be sending military personnel to Syria to reinforce the Russian-backed government of President Bashar Al-Assad.
Russia Today , citing a write up that appeared in Al-Masdar Al-Arabi — a Lebanon based news website — reported that a Chinese naval vessel is on its way to Syria with dozens of “military advisers” on board.
The ship is said to have passed the Suez Canal in Egypt and is making its way through the Mediterranean Sea.
According to the website, the Chinese advisers will be joining Russian personnel in the Latakia region.
China’s state-run tabloid Global Times quoted Zhang Junshe, a senior researcher at the PLA Naval Military Studies Research Institute as saying that reportage might have been confused by the movements of the PLA Navy's 152 Fleet. The flotilla has been headed by the Jinan guided-missile destroyer along with the Yiyang frigate and the Qiandaohu supply ship, and has been conducting naval activities in the Mediterranean this year. He pointed out that after completing a four-month escort mission, the fleet began a five-month global tour from Aug. 23 that began from the Gulf of Aden, and included a passage through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean and the Baltic Sea. The fleet has so far visited Sudan, Egypt, Denmark and Finland, after passing through the Mediterranean in late August or early September.
However, WND , a U.S.-based website is reporting that a Chinese military ship has been located several “hours” away from the Syrian coast.
It quoted a defence official from West Asia as saying that the ship is awaiting a formal request for Chinese military advisers from the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
A Syrian government source apparently confirmed knowledge of the Chinese vessel, but Damascus was yet to take a call for Chinese assistance.
The reported Chinese naval movement comes has come after the U.S. accused Russia of dispatching heavy weaponry including tanks, combat aircraft, a naval unit, and other military equipment to bolster the Syrian army.
The website quoting its sources denied that the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning-CV-16 had docked along with guided missile cruiser at the Syrian port of Tartus, as reported earlier by Debka.com , an Israeli website. Mr. Zhang of the PLA think-tank also told Global Times that reports about the Liaoning heading to the Mediterranean are "purely rumours."
The speculation about Sino-Russian military collaboration in the Mediterranean follows an escalation of joint manoeuvres by the two navies, following the crisis in Ukraine, and the growing U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific.
In May, China and Russia held a joint naval exercise in the Mediterranean, codenamed Joint Sea-2015 (I).
This was followed in August by Joint Sea-2015 (II) — naval manoeuvres that were held in the Sea of Japan.