November 30th, 2017 – Fort Russ News –
– Joaquin Flores for FRN – Support Flores’ Patreon
|2014 – PLA 27th Army from Beijing Military Region, conduct “North Sword -1405” maneuvers held in northern Chinese desert|
Over the last two days, news sites ran a story claiming that China was going to be sending units to Syria. We didn’t run the story because something wasn’t right. When we tried to get to the bottom of the claim, which on our radar screens originated in the English language from the generally reliable Middle-East Monitor. Their story was here.
That story in turn referred to a Gulf state news site called the New Khaleej. But they didn’t give a link to the source story. But the New Khaleej in turn isn’t the official mouth-piece of China. And on Xinhua news, which is China’s official news, there was nothing relating to that story.
All stories that ran subsequently an any number of sites, including on TeleSur, seem to go back to sources which in turn end up citing the New Khaleej story.
Since our editorial team is made up not of stenographers of power educated in western ‘Journalism School’ but rather mostly of university educated political scientists with a background in IR, we know already that China has a very conservative policy about deploying units outside of a very limited and well known possible area. The border with India is a hot-spot today, and in 1950 there was the liberation of Tibet, and in 1979 China invaded Vietnam in response to Vietnam moving into Cambodia. What these all have in common is that they border China. China’s defense policy is generally focused on changing the composition of its forces, generally under the pretext of what it calls informationization and mechanization of its forces, which should see a reduction in army size in exchange for the deployment of force multiplying technologies by 2020.
Internally, the Chinese self-narrative and other factors relating to how their legitimacy story is explained to its people, generally works against really foreign deployments.
We should add that it is also probable that China is using the conflict in Syria to allow some of its most ‘rambunctious’ Uyghur Salafist extremists to find some other place and way to meet their end. China has the security and intelligence apparatus in place to pre-emptively arrest and detain these extremists before they leave China. But contrary to Western mythology, China would then be in the position of having to treat rather decently, rehabilitate, and then release these extremists back to the public – and so there are very limited number of reasons to explain Chinese policy on allowing these Uyghur Salafists to leave to fight in Syria.
This would mirror Russian policy on dealing with the vast bulk of Ukrainian armed neo-nazi extremism which saw a tremendous reduction in numbers in the famous Debaltseve cauldron in January 2015. The meat-grinder there not only reduced NATO proxy Ukrainian force capacity, but perhaps just as importantly – if not more – reduced a great number of political agitators, who in turn influence the culture at large as well as voters. ‘Martyrdom’ doesn’t work well as an organizing strength when, say, 80% of your movement is ‘martyred’.
China is chiefly a soft-power actor, and any news that they are deploying their admittedly impressive defensively oriented army anywhere, should always be met first with skepticism. It’s rising global hegemony is not based on military adventurism.
We chose not to the run the story because based on all the above, though we could have run a version of the story with the proviso that we are still seeking confirmation about that. When the reliable Al Masdar ran the story, their chief editor wrote the story himself with the important proviso that they were still seeking confirmation from Syrian military officials. This is the right way to cover such a story, should an agency choose to cover it.
Predictably, when Al Masdar’s team received word back from the Syrian officials – the result was as we expected:
Just spoke to a Syrian Army source, they denied Chinese troops deploying to Syria.
— Leith Abou Fadel (@leithfadel) November 30, 2017
With all that said, a few minders. For one, it’s likely that China has had a few military experts on the ground, from time to time to observe real-time actions. These would be active or retired ranking military who likely are instructors at military academies in China. War games are a great way to see how various doctrines and technologies play out in reality. But far superior to this are observing actual conflicts.
Secondly, the weather balloon factor. There have now been several stories that have suddenly appeared about China set to deploy troops to Syria. The last notable one was from 2015. These don’t appear without cause.
In many spheres of social life, governments, corporations, organizations, etc., may have others close to them go on ahead and leak a proposed new policy or product (one they have no plan for), etc., just to gauge public or international, even internal, reception. At some point in time, in the future, China may be compelled to deploy as far away from it’s primary sphere of interest as Syria and beyond, and these stories serve as an excellent way to gauge, and prepare for, the response.
Fort Russ News has no problem printing a retraction, but we’d rather avoid that when we know beforehand that we’d later have to. There’s a cynical saying inside the news world, that news only has to be true for a day. We aren’t interested in that. Maintaining readership and building trust as a credible paper, emerging as a paper of record, is a long-term and principle-based project, and this means not covering a sensational story that gives a short term boost to ratings.