Chinese state media are promoting a more prominent role for the communist country in resolving the civil war in Syria, with a column in the People’s Daily suggesting China could “build on the basic consensus reached by the international community that the Syrian crisis should be solved politically.”
“A problem as complicated as the Syrian crisis cannot be solved by any single party or country alone; instead, it requires the joint efforts of the international community. China is willing to play a constructive role in pushing for a political solution for the Syrian crisis,” the People’s Daily article contends, suggesting that “China’s recent invitations for a Syrian government representative and opposition party representative for talks show not only China’s willingness to promote peace talks and a resolution of the crisis, but also China’s commitment to its responsibilities as a major power.”
The article accuses the West, by demanding dictator Bashar al-Assad step down in an orderly transition, of “hampering” anti-terror efforts in the region. In contrast, it presents China as a productive force at the United Nations, claiming that China is calling for “authorization of the Security Council’s ceasefire monitoring plan, and a peacekeeping operation when conditions permit. These proposals are pertinent and highly operable.” It does not specify what a Chinese peacekeeping mission in Syria would look like.
The editorial was published shortly after the Chinese government announced the passing of a new “anti-terrorism” law – the first of its kind to specifically target terrorist crime – that would allow the Chinese military to engage in counter-terror operations abroad. This would allow for China to take a prominent role in Middle Eastern terrorist violence when the “relevant country” that would receive these troops agrees to its presence, and would put China on equal footing with Russia, Iran, and the United States in sending troops abroad for such operations.
China also announced this week that it would donate more than $6 million to the Assad government in Syria to be used in “humanitarian assistance” as a show of unity with the government that has been accused of killing thousands of civilians using chemical weapons. An Assad envoy in Beijing accepted the donation on his behalf.
As China is an ally of the Assad regime, though not as active as ones more geographically proximate to the situation, Syria’s most prominent ally has appeared to embrace the news. Sputnik News, a Russian propaganda outlet, immediately picked up the People’s Daily opinion piece, reporting on it with the title “Sino Diplomacy Lesson: China Exerts Influence on Syrian Crisis.” Earlier this month, China issued a statement vowing to help Russia in any counter-terrorism operation, following a personal meeting between heads of state Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin at the climate change summit in Paris. “Russia would like to work with China to enhance cooperation in such areas as anti-terrorism, and adamantly promote democracy in international relations,” Putin allegedly said at the time.
Long before that, China had made some indication that it sought a more prominent role in the Syrian crisis. “China is willing to continue to make positive efforts for the political settlement of the Syrian issue, and provide assistance to the Syrian people and refugees,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in October. “China has no self-interest in the Middle East, so China is willing to play a constructive role, on a fair and objective stance, in finding a political solution to hot spot issues,” he reportedly added.
That statement followed months of China’s refusal to accept Syrian refugees, instead using its state propaganda outlets to pressure the United States into accepting more. “The United States should take its responsibility in the disheartening refugee crisis in Europe as its controversial Middle East policies resulted in wars and chaos that displaced large numbers of people,” an editorial in state-run Xinhua read that month. A poll at the time found that Chinese people were “overwhelmingly against” accepting Syrian refugees.
While China has worked to keep Syrian refugees away from its borders and minimize the potential damage inflicted on it through involvement in Syria, while every so often appearing interested in staking an interest in the fight, the Islamic State terrorist group has made clear it hopes to lure Chinese troops into the Syrian battle theater. In the November issue of ISIS magazine Dabiq, Islamic State terrorists boasted of beheading Fan Jinghui, a Chinese citizen. The group has released videos demanding Chinese citizens pay the Islamic jizya, or infidel tax, and even released a recruitment song in Mandarin, hoping to attract Chinese Muslims.
China has not had an overt military presence in Syria since 2012, when it joined Russia and Iran in executing “war games” in the region, near the Suez Canal.