Rumours have been circulating in Arabic language media and social media for days that the Chinese Ministry of Defence intends to send troops from the elite counterterrorism ‘Dark Night Tiger’ and ‘Tigers of Siberia’ units to fight extremist groups alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
There are several unconfirmed reports that Chinese troops arrived in the Syrian-regime controlled port of Tartous on Thursday.
Chinese state media has made no mention of any deployment – which would go against official policy.
An estimated 5,000 Chinese nationals of Uighur ethnicity have travelled to Syria in recent years to join Isis’ so-called caliphate or to fight for various other jihadist groups in the country.
China’s northwestern Xinjiang province, where many of the militants come from, faces its own insurgency.
Over the last decade hundreds of people have been killed as Muslim Uighurs fight for the creation of a separatist state called East Turkestan.
Minority Uighers claim they have long been discriminated against at a state level by the Chinese government’s homogenous policies.
Chinese politicians and media has often blamed terrorist attacks on Uighurs whom they say have received training from extremist groups in Syria.
Like many other countries, China fears the return of its homegrown militants as Isis’s caliphate crumbles.
President Assad himself has previously praised what he called “crucial cooperation” between Syrian and Chinese intelligence against Uighur militants, al Araby reports. He has also said ties with China are “on the rise”.
Beijing passed a new anti-terrorism law in January 2016 which allowed its military to venture overseas on counter-terrorism operations.
An unknown number of Chinese military personnel have operated in the Syrian theatre since last year in an advisory capacity, training the Syrian army how to use Chinese-made weapons.
To date China is the only permanent member of the UN Security Council which has not taken direct military action in Syria’s six-year-long civil war, although it has joined Syria’s major ally Russia in using its veto power to block UN resolutions critical of the regime in the past.
Last month, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pledged to visiting Syrian government officials that China would play a major role in funding rebuilding in the country.
Syria is also looking to Russia and Iran, its military partners, for major reconstruction efforts.