China signs al-Assad aid deal
China is to step up personnel training and humanitarian assistance to president Bashar al-Assad's Syrian government, state media reported yesterday, in a sign of growing concern in Beijing about the course of Syria's civil war.
Rear Admiral Guan Youfei, who heads China's office for international military co-operation, met Lt Gen Fahd Jassem al-Frejj, the Syrian defence minister, in Damascus earlier this week, the Xinhua news agency said. "They reached consensus on improving personnel training, and the Chinese military offering humanitarian aid to Syria," the Xinhua report said of the meeting.
Xinhua said Rear Admiral Guan also met Lt Gen Sergei Chvarkov, the Russian general in charge of the reconciliation centre Russia set up earlier this year to monitor a short-lived ceasefire between the government and rebel groups.
Russia did not comment on the meeting. Russia entered the war in Syria on Mr al-Assad's side last September.
The 'Global Times', a paper published by the ruling Communist Party, said advisers are already on the ground in Syria to train regime forces in the use of Chinese-bought weapons including sniper rifles, rocket launchers and machine guns.
China has been selling weapons to Syria for decades and has joined Russia in blocking resolutions critical of the regime at the UN Security Council. It has avoided further entanglement, however, and is the only permanent member of the Security Council not involved in military operations in Syria.
"The dispatch of senior Chinese military personnel suggests a deeper involvement and a more strategic angle," said Michal Meidan, Asia analyst at Energy Aspects.
China sources half of its oil and gas from the Middle East, mostly from Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. Beijing is unlikely to risk alienating any of those by becoming involved in the conflict.
The visit may be intended as a diplomatic poke in the eye for the United States amid mounting tensions over Chinese territorial ambitions in the South China Sea, Ms Meidan said.