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A nation must think before it acts.
With signs pointing to the civil war in Syria entering its final stages and Russian President Vladimir Putin declaring victory over ISIS there in December 2017, key actors are looking to the future and post-war development of the ravaged country.
On December 11 2017, when visiting the Hemeimeem air base in Syria, Putin said to the Russian troops stationed there, “Here in Syria, far away from our borders, you helped the Syrian people to preserve their state and fend off attacks by terrorists. . . . You have dealt a devastating blow to those who blatantly threatened our country. We will never forget about the victims who fell in the fight against terror both here and in Russia.”
Even though Putin has declared victory and plans to begin withdrawing troops, the conflict is far from over. Reports of China sending its elite “Night Tigers” special forces unit to Syria about one week after Putin’s visit points to this fact (though the Chinese have denied such reports).
When thinking of the civil war in Syria, reading about China may surprise some since other than vetoing various proposed resolutions/sanctions on the United Nations Security Council, China has not played much of a role in the conflict vis-à-vis Russia, the United States, Iran, and Europe. What is China doing in Syria now, and why is it now interested in playing a more active role there?
For China, Syria’s importance comes down to two main areas of interests: preventing the rise and spread of the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) in the Middle East and China and preparing Syria to be a key part of its One Belt One Road Initiative (OBOR).