China sending warship to Syrian coast

We spend a lot of time debating the domestic ramifications of President Obama’s handling – to use the word loosely – of the situation in Syria, ranging from political fallout to impacts on upcoming elections. But it’s a big world out there and other countries have taken a keen interest in the subject. You can now bump up the level of engagement that China has in this mess, as they have dispatched a warship of their own to the party.

China has reportedly sent warships to the coast of Syria to “observe” the actions of US and Russian ships as tensions build in preparation for a potential military strike on Syria which could come as soon as next week.

According to the Russian news outlet, the People’s Liberation Army dispatched the Jinggangshan amphibious dock landing ship and the vessel was seen passing through the Red Sea towards the Suez Canal, the waterway in Egypt that leads to the Mediterranean Sea and waters off the coast of Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

It may be for “observation” purposes, but this is no Carnival cruise ship. Launched in 2011, the Jinggangshan was built for action.

China has launched its largest amphibious dock landing warship, the 19,000 metric ton Jinggangshan, in Shanghai.

The 689-foot-long warship can carry 1,000 soldiers, helicopters, armored fighting vehicles, boats and landing craft, a report in the China Daily said.

The vessel is the second Type 071 dock landing ship built by Shanghai’s Hudong-Zhonghua Shipbuilding.

In addition to the troop and chopper carrying capabilities, the ship has a number of conventional guns. This comes on the heels of news that Russia already dispatched ships to the region this week, so it’s starting to get a little crowded out there. I was watching Fox and Friends this morning – where I first saw the story – and there were some probably hyperbolic comparisons being made to 1914, but it does make one wonder. Over the past two decades, when the United States has decided to launch any sort of air strikes from mobile / naval platforms, it was just taken as a given that we could do it. And our targets generally don’t have much in the way of sea power to challenge elements of the most powerful navy on the planet. But the Russians and the Chinese have considerable forces as well.

This leaves two potential areas for trouble. What if the Russians and / or the Chinese decided to respond to a strike by us with a military option? They’ve got the resources in place – though it still sounds unlikely in the extreme – so Obama has to be taking that into account. The other problem for the President, though, seems to come from the much more likely possibility that he won’t muster any support at home and our ships turn around and leave the area without striking. How bad of an international debacle does that turn out to be when we have ships in place, the Russians and Chinese show up, and we turn tail and leave? It wouldn’t be the reality of what happened, but that’s how it could easily be spun on the international stage. The last standing superpower on the planet comes to a showdown on the ocean and walks away… it’s not a pretty picture.