China will deploy troops to Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, as the East Asian country becomes increasingly concerned about the presence of Islamic militants in its far western region of Xinjiang.
The Chinese Ministry of Defence intends to send two units known as the “Tigers of Siberia” and the “Night Tigers” from the Special Operations Forces to aid regime troops against militant factions, New Khaleej reported, citing informed sources.
Some 5,000 ethnic Uighurs from China’s violence-prone region of Xinjiang are fighting in various militant groups in Syria, the Syrian ambassador to China said earlier this year.
Chinese state media has blamed violence in Xinjiang on extremists who were trained in Syria.
Hundreds of people have been killed in Xinjiang in the past few years, most in unrest between Uighurs and ethnic majority Han Chinese. The government blames the unrest on Islamist militants who want a separate state called East Turkestan.
Uighurs themselves complain of discrimination and say their traditional and religious way of life is being eroded by Chinese domestic policy and an influx of settlers from elsewhere in China.
China has said that “East Turkestan terrorist forces” had posed several threats against the government.
Assad has previously praised “crucial cooperation” between Syria and Chinese intelligence against Uighur militants, adding ties with China were “on the rise”.
Chinese military personnel have been on the ground in Syria since at least last year, training Syrian forces to use China-made weapons.
China has also joined Russia in blocking resolutions critical of the regime at the United Nations Security Council, as one of the five vetoing powers on the panel.