Last March, China quietly deployed troops to Syria. The soldiers, according to Chinese officials, trained members of the Syrian army, offering advice on medicine and logistics. Despite how little fanfare surrounded this move, it was, in fact, very significant: this is the first time China has sent troops to the Middle East for any reason other than to protect ongoing commercial projects.
The war in Syria has had a significant impact on global stability with grave implications for European security, the American presidential elections of 2016 and for Islamist non-state groups operating in Asian countries such as China, Philippines, Malaysia and even the secure city state of Singapore.
The effect of the war on China’s policy in the Middle East since 2014, particularly in Syria, has transformed it from one of caution to one of proaction.
While Beijing’s engagement was initially motivated by security concerns – including fears of Chinese nationals fighting in Syria and returning east – over the past two years, the blossoming relationship has seen both China’s economic interests in Syria and the country’s hold in the Levant more broadly flourish.