China is boosting its involvement in Middle Eastern affairs; the appointment of China's first special envoy for Syria in spring and the conclusion of an agreement on closer military cooperation between Beijing and Tehran are clear manifestations of the process, experts say.
However, according to Mohsen Shariatiniya, an expert in Sino-Iranian relations at the Tehran-based Center for Strategic Research (CSR), there is little chance that the People's Liberation Army will step in in Syria any time soon.
"Given the recent turn of events on the world arena, China is playing an active role in the fight against terrorism. But this activity is limited to constructive efforts China is taking in the UN, as well as to its support to those countries which are battling with terrorists on the ground. However, this support does not include direct military collaboration. It is a political support, not a military one, and I believe that China will maintain this position," Shariatiniya told Sputnik Persian.
However, it would be wrong to assume that China is not really concerned about the problem of terrorism, the expert added.
"It remains an important issue for Beijing's domestic and foreign policies," Shariatiniya emphasized, adding that the Chinese leadership still prefer to refrain from fighting terrorists in the Middle East.
However, China's political support is invaluable for powers which are involved in a direct conflict with radical Islamists in Syria, he emphasized.
Speaking to Sputnik, Maria Pakhomova, an expert from the Institute of Oriental Studies of Russian Academy of Sciences, called attention to the fact that Beijing has expanded its diplomatic involvement in Syria, referring to the appointed of Xie Xiaoyan as the Special Envoy of the Chinese Government on the Syrian issue this April.
On the other hand, by staking on Iran, a powerful Middle Eastern power, Beijing is signaling its interest in the regional affairs.
"Iran seems to be a very important partner for China in settling the Syrian crisis, as the Chinese special envoy to Syria has served as the country's ambassador to Iran," Pakhomova told Sputnik.
On November 14, the two countries inked the agreement on closer military cooperation including training, joint military drills and counterterrorism operations.
"It goes without saying that the trip of [China's Defense Minister] General Chang to Tehran, which is the first visit of its kind by a Chinese defense minister to Iran, would well serve as evidence to the influential role the Islamic Republic of Iran has in fostering Asia's defense and security," Mina Ahmadi of Mehr News Agency reported Monday.
Commenting on the matter, Franz-Stefan Gady of The Diplomat recalled that the two powers "maintained close military-to-military contacts throughout the 1980s and 1990s" and added that "China helped Iran boost its anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities."
Gady suggested that the Sino-Iranian military cooperation pose a challenge for the US military "in both the Middle East and Asia."
However, both China and Russia view Iran as their longstanding strategic partner, Petr Akopov of Vzglyad noted in his recent op-ed. In this context any attempts by the new Trump administration to exert excessive pressure on the Islamic Republic is likely to be resisted by Beijing and Moscow, the journalist believes.