China playing ‘positive role’ in Syrian conflict, says military

Remarks as China forges closer ties with Russia and Iran in support of Bashar al-Assad

China is playing a "positive role" in finding a political settlement in the Syrian conflict, a spokesman for the country's military has said, after one of Beijing's top brass visited the country for talks with Bashar al-Assad's Syrian government.

The visit to Damascus by rear admiral Guan Youfei, who is head of international co-operation in the China military commission, for talks with Syrian defence minister Fahd Jassem al-Freij, came as China allied itself more closely with Russia and Iran to support Mr Assad's government in the six-year war.

The Russian military has backed Mr Assad since September and its air strikes have been accused of killing thousands of civilians.

At the weekend, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said that a video of Syrian boy Omran Daqneesh covered in dust and blood, which went viral and caused outrage around the world, may have been faked as part of a western “propaganda war”.


China’s state broadcaster CCTV ran a report showing the video of the four-year-old sitting in an ambulance looking shell-shocked and caked in dirt, with a subtitle saying: “Video suspected of being fake”.

"Critics have suggested the video is part of a propaganda war, aimed at creating a 'humanitarian' excuse for western countries to become involved in Syria, " ran the commentary on the TV report. Russian media have made similar claims.

A spokesman for the Chinese defence ministry told a monthly news briefing that this year marked the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties between it and Syria, that China’s role was to facilitate a political settlement, and that Beijing supported the independence of Syria.

“Upon mutual agreement, the Chinese military has provided humanitarian assistance including medical equipment as well as medicines to the Syrian side to help ease the humanitarian crisis in Syria,” Wu Qian told the briefing.

“For the same reason, we have also provided training slots to the Syrian armed forces on medical service and nursing.”

Asked if Chinese troops were providing military training in Syria, Mr Wu said the training was in the medical field.

During the same briefing, Mr Wu spoke of the importance of mil-to-mil relations after a number of joint exercises with US and other navies in recent months. However, relations between China and the US are in a difficult patch since Washington gave its support to an international tribunal’s decision criticising China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The Chinese military is also angry that the US will install the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea, ostensibly as a buffer against the nuclear threat from North Korea. China sees the THAAD system as a threat to its own nuclear arsenal.

There have been a number of strong anti-US editorials and stories in the media in the past few days, including commentary in the Global Times newspaper that the investigation into Hillary Clinton's private email server showed the "hypocrisy of the US elite".

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing