China's Lessons From the Syrian Civil War

Lyle J. Goldstein

Key Point: China sees that Russian prestige and international influence has grown since it's involvement in the Syrian Civil War.

It has long been recognized that the closer alignment between Moscow and Beijing that goes back nearly three decades now provides each with ample political and diplomatic benefits. A less well explored aspect of the relationship could examine how these partners learn from one another in various domains, including in the crucial area of strategy. I have pointed out in this forum before that Chinese strategists have looked carefully at the war in Ukraine and the related Crimea annexation. This edition of Dragon Eye takes a close look at a Chinese assessment of Russia’s military intervention in Syria.

China’s interpretation of the Syrian War could turn out to be quite significant. I have recently argued in that Beijing could play a major role as one among several disinterested (and thus neutral) major powers in helping to fashion a diplomatic solution to the Gordian knot that is the Syria situation today. Such a role would be quite consistent with its ambitions to be a genuinely global power, providing global public goods for international security, and simultaneously facilitating the opening of vast trade corridors spanning Eurasia. Yet, there is a potentially darker side of China’s examination of the Syrian War. Indeed, there is a danger revealed in this late 2017 study published in the journal Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies [俄罗斯东欧中亚研究] of the prestigious Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Put simply, that danger  is that Chinese strategists could conclude that the Russian war in Syria provides a valuable paradigm for possible future Chinese uses of force in distant theaters as “anti-terrorism military operations [反恐军事行动].”

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