China to stay away from Syria

A commentary on China’s Defence Ministry website points out that Beijing’s core interests are in Asia-Pacific rather than West Asia.

October 20, 2015 04:01 am | Updated March 28, 2016 08:08 pm IST - Beijing

ts focus on the Asia-Pacific, military limitations, and fear of getting bogged down in a far-away conflict are preventing China from dispatching forces to Syria.

A candid commentary published by the website China Military Online identifies four major factors that are dissuading Beijing from sending forces in support of the Russia-mounted operation in Syria.

The write-up posted on China’s Defence Ministry website points out that Beijing’s core interests are in Asia-Pacific rather than West Asia.

“All wars that the troops of the People’s Republic of China have engaged in over the past 60-plus years were on the border or in neighbouring countries. The Middle East is so remote from China that most Chinese don’t think it has any direct relation to China’s core interests,” the article observes, citing unnamed “scholars”.

Any dispatch of troops to Syria would pose a “comprehensive challenge” to China’s military confidence.

The commentary makes it plain that Chinese forces would not engage in war in West Asia targeting the militant group Islamic State (IS) without a sanction from the United Nations Security Council. “The attacks against the IS previously launched by the U.S. and now by Russia were decided by the two countries themselves through consultation with relevant forces. It is improbable for China to engage in a war in the Middle East without the UN’s authorisation”.

Third, the write-up underscores China’s military limitations, including the absence of foreign military bases and allies. Fears of getting dragged in a remote conflict are another major factor that is dissuading the deployment of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Syria. The article states unambiguously that, “While it’s easy to dispatch troops there, it requires a huge supportive system to withdraw them.”

It adds: “To play a leading or auxiliary role in the military intervention there means systematic input, and China, to be frank, isn’t capable of that yet because it lacks allies in that region and has no military base there either, both of which are indispensable for long-distance military intervention.”

Finally, since China has not been the cause of the situation in Syria, “it has no reason to engage in the conflicts there.” The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson has already rejected speculation that the Chinese aircraft carrier, Liaoning, was heading in support of Russia’s military action in Syria. However, in May, Russian and Chinese warships had carried out their first naval exercise in the Mediterranean Sea, whose waters wash Syrian shores.

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