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    Chinese troops march during the military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War Two, in Beijing, China, September 3, 2015

    Is China Preparing for Military Involvement in Syrian Crisis?

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    Earlier this week, a senior Chinese military officer visited Damascus to discuss closer ties between Syria and China.

    Guan Youfei, director of the Office for International Military Cooperation of China's Central Military Commission, met Syrian Defense Minister Fahad Jassim al-Freij, Xinhua reported.

    "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," Guan was quoted as saying.

    Beijing and Damascus also discussed personnel training and reached a consensus on the Chinese military providing humanitarian aid to Syria, according to Xinhua.

    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (R) shakes hands with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani during a welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey April 16, 2016
    © REUTERS / Yasin Bulbul/Presidential Palace
    After China adopted a law authorizing its armed forces to conduct counterterrorist operations abroad many experts predicted that Beijing may get involved in the Syrian conflict. However, that did not happen.

    "Personnel training" could mean training of technical personnel for the Syrian Army in China, said Vasily Kashin, senior research fellow at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies.

    "Previously, China supplied camouflage equipment, vehicles and possibly light weapons to the Syrian Army. Now, China could start training Syrian military personnel. But I think China’s involvement in Syria will be limited. Beijing is cautiously watching Syria. Maybe now China wants a more active role," the expert told the Russian analytical website Svobodnaya Pressa.

    He explained that there are several levels of China’s interest regarding the situation in the war-torn country. At the same time, unlike Russia, China has not been openly involved in Syria.

    Beijing has a complicated network of relations in the Middle East. On the one hand, China is an important partner for Iran. On the other hand, Beijing has intense trade and investment ties with Saudi Arabia.

    However, China is concerned about a militant group from the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in Syria. The militants will pose a threat to Chinese national security if they return to China.

    "The recent talks between China and Syria presume actual military cooperation. This is a very important step for both countries," Kashin said.

    China is gradually moving across the national border in using its military power, Vladimir Evseyev, senior analyst at the Institute of CIS Countries, said.

    "Earlier, China authorized the use of military forces abroad for fighting terrorism. Moreover, China is examining where its forces could be deployed if needed," Evseyev said.

    Before the Syrian war, China was Syria’s biggest trade partner, with a trade volume of over $2 billion. Beijing also invested in the Syrian oil industry. Now, China is interested in bolstering its presence in the Middle East, including future participation in restoring industry and infrastructure in Syria.

    Another reason for China’s interest for Syria is the need for actual combat experience for the Chinese military, the expert added.

    "The Chinese Armed Forces lack serious combat experience. It cannot be ruled out that Chinese military trainers and even special forces would be deployed to Syria. The Chinese military is closely watching Russia’s actions in Syria. For China, Syria would be a perfect place to gain combat experience and test its weapons," he pointed out.

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    military, terrorism, talks, Syria, China
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