Last summer, when the Syrian conflict was near its peak under the Obama administration, China unexpectedly warned it was ready to enter the proxy war when in a stunning announcement, Xinhua reported that Beijing was prepared to side with Syria and Russia, against the US-led alliance, and that Xi and Assad had agreed that the Chinese military will have closer ties with Syria and provide humanitarian aid to the civil war torn nation.
A high-ranking People's Liberation Army officer also said that the training of Syrian personnel by Chinese instructors has also been discussed: the Director of the Office for International Military Cooperation of China's Central Military Commission, Guan Youfei, arrived in Damascus on Tuesday for talks with Syrian Defense Minister Fahad Jassim al-Freij, Xinhua added. Guan said China had consistently played a positive role in pushing for a political resolution in Syria. "China and Syria's militaries have a traditionally friendly relationship, and China's military is willing to keep strengthening exchanges and cooperation with Syria's military," Xinhua quoted Guan.
Then last month, as the lingering Syrian proxy war dragged on, we reported that Moscow was hoping "for China's help in solving the Syrian crisis and restoring the country."
As Russia's deputy foreign minister Igor Morgulov said on May 29, "our cooperation with China on Syria at various international venues is unprecedented. We blocked six attempts to pass anti-Syrian resolutions in the U.N. Security Council," Morgulov said at "Russia and China: Taking on a New Quality of Bilateral Relations" international conference adding that "together we call for a peaceful and political-diplomatic solution to conflicts, without double standards, unilateral action or attempts at ousting regimes. Our approaches coincide, among other things, on the uncompromising fight against terrorism."
And while the Syrian conflict has taken a back seat in recent weeks to the latest crisis to grip the Gulf region, namely the economic and territorial blockade of Qatar by its Arab neighbors, overnight China made an unexpected appearance, not surprisingly perhaps siding again with the biggest supporter of the Assad regime, when as AP reported Iran's navy conducted a joint exercise with a Chinese fleet near the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf. It was only the second time the Chinese flotilla has visited the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas since 2014, and comes at a tense moment as the Senate last week passed a new round of sanctions against Tehran.
According to Iran's official IRNA news agency, Sunday's drill included an Iranian warship as well as two Chinese warships, a logistics ship and a Chinese helicopter that arrived in Iran's port of Bandar Abbas last week, and adds that the scheduled exercise "came before the departure of the Chinese fleet for Muscat, Oman."
Some more details from RT:
The Chinese fleet, which includes the Chang Chun guided-missile destroyer, the Chao Hu replenishment ship, the Jin Zhou frigate, and a helicopter, arrived in the Iranian southern port of Bandar Abbas on Thursday. An Iranian destroyer and a helicopter joined them for the drills.
The exercises, which had been planned in advance, are aimed at promoting interaction and strengthening confidence between the navies of the two nations, according to Rear Admiral Shen Hao, Commander of China Navy Task Force Group 150, as cited by Iran’s IRNA news agency.
IRNA added that Iran's Commander of the First Naval Base Rear Admiral Amir Hossein Azad in a joint press conference with commander of Chinese visiting’ fleet-150’ in Bandar Abbas on Thursday evening said that the maneuver will be held in the east of the Hormuz Strait and north of the Indian Ocean. Describing the "optics" of the drill, the commander added that "in fighting against the ominous phenomenon of piracy, defending trade fleets, and carrying out relief and rescue operations, the two navies have collaboration and exchange useful information." What was left unsaid is that China was implicitly siding with Iran - a key source of crude oil for Beijing in the past year - in the country's diplomatic spat with Washington.
Rear Admiral Shen Hao, Commander of China Navy Task Force Group 150 confirmed as much, saying that "holding the maneuver had already been planned and the successful execution of the program will help develop more friendship, promote interaction and strengthen confidence between the two navies of Iran and China."
Separately, in a tacit show of support for Qatar in its own ongoing diplomatic spat, the U.S. navy held a joint drill with Qatar in the Persian Gulf on Saturday. It said the scheduled exercise came before the departure of the Chinese fleet for Muscat, Oman.
While the signalling remains muddled, it appears that China is increasingly tipping its cards that it is alligned with the Iran-Syria-Russia axis, while the US appears to be hoping that by indicating military cooperation with Qatar, that the Saudi coalition will gradually allow things to return to the way they were.