China has quietly expanded its military presence in Syria, where it has sent hundreds of troops and deployed advanced weaponry, to the east of the country, where President Bashar al-Assad is seeking to crush opposition forces.
The US is also sending about 500 troops and several warships to the region, where US and British officials have been meeting for months in Riyadh.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has previously expressed concern that China’s military expansion in the Middle East could be a precursor to another conflict, particularly in Syria.
“I do believe that, with the Chinese military footprint in the region now, it would be very difficult for the Russians to contain the threat posed by China’s actions,” Tillerson said on Wednesday.
“If you look at what China has done in the past, it has made it very clear it would like to see a return to the status quo in the East and the West.
It is an expansion that would create instability.”
Beijing has also deployed a number of new warships and submarines in the Gulf of Aden, and is conducting air strikes on Yemen in a bid to shore up its military position there.
The United Nations has said it is concerned about China’s “aggressive actions”, including “military and cyber activities”, and urged the US to halt its support of the regime in Damascus.
Tillerson has also voiced concern about the risk of a potential Chinese invasion of the Taiwan Strait, and China has said its presence in the area would not “lead to any military conflict”.
He has also said that the US should consider more sanctions against Beijing for its human rights abuses, including for its alleged detention of activists.