Idlib has largely been dominated by al-Nusra Front, Syria’s Al Qaeda offshoot. China’s ambassador to Syria, Qin Qianjin, confirmed their coming military involvement to Syria’s Al Watan news service.
Chinese military support for the Syrian government will in fact be aimed at the destruction of the Muslim Uyghur presence. The Uyghur ethnic group is closely allied to Turkey. China hopes to settle the Uyghur problem by getting Turkey to relinquish the portion of Syrian territory that it is currently occupying.
Since 2012, members of the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), have claimed responsibility for suicide bombings, mass stabbings and other terror attacks in western China.
According to the Chinese, the presence of large numbers of Uyghurs in these terror groups pose a threat to its national security. Qin noted: “There has been close cooperation between our armies in fighting the terrorists [who came to Syria] from all over the world, including terrorists who came from China.”
The Syrian government estimated last year that out of 40 000 rebels, some 5 000 in Idlib were Chinese Uyghurs, meaning that Uyghurs likely represent around an eighth of the fighters currently present in Idlib. Other regional reports state a higher number of Uyghurs, between 10 000 and 20 000.
Speaking to Al Watan, Qin said: “The military is willing to participate in some way alongside the Syrian army that is fighting the terrorists in Idlib and in any other part of Syria.” He added later: “We – China and its military – wish to develop our relations with the Syrian army.”
The Chinese military attaché in Syria, Wong Roy Chang, told Al Watan: “First, the Chinese government opposes every kind of terrorism… Second, we regret that some Chinese nationals, encouraged by extremist organisations, came to Syria and formed a terrorist organization [that fights] the [Syrian] citizens and government. We oppose and condemn this, and express our sorrow over the crimes perpetrated [by this organisation] against the Syrian people and government.”
A source in Damascus, reporter Elijah Magnier, believes that the campaign to liberate Idlib would likely take place during the month of September.
The province is the only remaining stronghold of ISIS surrogates in Syria, as all other significant areas of Syrian territory that are not under government control, are either occupied by Turkish or US forces or their proxies.
A military campaign supported by both the Russian and Chinese governments will likely lead to the routing of foreign-sponsored rebels in Syria.
It appears that China has little choice. If not defeated in Idlib, these fighters will set their sights on China. In December last year, a Uyghur militant told the Associated Press: “We didn’t care how the fighting went or who Assad was. We just wanted to learn how to use the weapons and then go back to China.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has allowed Uyghurs to enter Syria by granting passports to thousands of Uyghur militants to allow their safe passage into Syria.