Chinese, Iranian and Turkish strategists surely gave a lot of thought to ways of making the Americans, Europeans and Middle East leaders sit up or rather jump before they came up with their epic game-changing maneuver.
Its dramatic effect was enhanced by its timing: So, when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao banged his head against the EU wall at the 13th China-European Union summit in Brussels on Oct. 6 – his demand for recognition of Beijing's rising influence on the world economy was met with demands to devalue the yuan – Chinese fighter-bombers suddenly shot up over the skies of Turkey, i.e. Europe for the first time in military history.
When Jintao's demand for an end to the arms embargo fell on deaf American and EU ears, Washington and Brussels discovered the Chinese Air Force had arrived on Europe's doorstep as Turkey's new partner in its annual Anatolian Eagle exercise from Sept. 20 through the first week of October. Chinese warplanes were taking off and landing at the Konya air base in Turkey's central Anatolia region.
Perhaps no one should have been surprised to find China hobnobbing with another nation cold-shouldered by the 27-nation European Union – Turkey.
Assad invited to climb aboard the Chinese arms train
As recently as October 4, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan complained bitterly once again about the US and Europe's refusal to cooperate with Ankara in stemming terror and the endless obstacles raised to keep Turkey out of the Union.
It has been 50 years since we first applied to the EU and we have faced delaying tactics ever since, Erdogan said.
But the shared bone Beijing and Ankara pick with the EU was not the deciding motive behind their new military partnership in the skies.
The real rationale behind it emerged, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources report, Monday, Oct. 11, from the undisclosed agenda of Erdogan brief conference with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus Monday, Oct. 11.
For media consumption their talks were labeled as a discussion on military and intelligence coordination in Turkey's war on the Kurdish PKK rebels. From their havens in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan, the separatists have been detouring to and from their attacks on Turkey through the Kurdish regions of Syria where they are provided with shelter, food and medical aid.
Erdogan was prepared to sideline even this vexed problem for a brilliant presentation of China's participation in Turkey's air exercise as a great feat and a starting-point promising a new era of extensive strategic cooperation between China and the Middle East bloc of Turkey, Iran and Syria.
He urged Assad to lose no time in jumping aboard the evolving set-up which would give him a buffer against US and Russian demands.
Shades of Non-Aligned Movement, Bandung 1955
The Turkish prime minister appeared to be seeking to disinter the Non-Aligned Movement created during the collapse of colonialism in the 1950s to advance the interests of the Third World of emerging nations at the height of the Cold war.
He sees himself reviving the ghosts of Bandung with himself and the rulers of China, Iran and Syria in the roles of India's Nehru, Indonesia's Sukarno and Tito of Yugoslavia.
Beijing, he assured Assad, could be counted on to give the three partners the sophisticated weapons denied them due to US and Israeli pressure. (See next article on Chinese S-300 anti-air missiles for Iran)
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources, the first appearance of Chinese Sukhoi Su-27 and Mig-29 fighter bombers over Turkey holds nothing but bad news for Washington and Europe and ill tidings indeed for Israel.
1. China has signaled the onset of a new era of global dimensions in which it is prepared for the first time to strike a military foothold outside the confines of the Far East in places as far distant as the Middle East. Beijing has decided to move forward and position itself on a new front line ready to defend by force if necessary its sources of energy and interests as a rising superpower.
2. With this move, Chinese leaders showed they no longer fear American military might and are ready to match any steps taken by Washington or Moscow to cement their military presence in the pivotal Middle East.
3. The Chinese warplanes' flight path to Turkey is just as significant as their participation in the Turkish war maneuver. On Tuesday, Oct. 12, debkafile's military sources first revealed exclusively that they had made a refueling stop in eastern Iran, at the Gayel al-Mohammad (The Rise of Mohammad) air base, where they were greeted by Iranian air force commander Gen. Ahmad Migani.
China angles for a seat at Afghanistan talks
This was another groundbreaking event: Never before have Chinese Air Force aircraft showed up in Iran, least of all found a welcome at an Iranian air base for providing an operational need. A specific message was addressed to Washington by this step: The Iranian air facility is situated near the city of Birjand in South Khorrasan, opposite the big American bases in eastern Afghanistan near the city of Herat, opposite the Afghani-Iranian border.
Beijing meant Washington to understand that it no longer intends abiding by the Security Council arms embargo against Iran and is, furthermore, displeased at being cut out of the diplomatic moves for ending the Afghanistan War. If Washington persists in this policy, Beijing will get together on Afghanistan with both Tehran and Islamabad.
4. There was a reason for China and Turkey consenting to run this year's air maneuver under the same name, Anatolian Eagle, as the exercises Ankara conducted for nineteen years with the air forces of the US, Israel and other NATO nations.
This year the US cancelled its participation after Ankara refused to invite Israel against the background of deteriorating relations with Jerusalem. Both this year's participants were determined to demonstrate that the Chinese Air Force is fully capable of filling the roles of US and Israeli warplanes and there is therefore no need to change the exercise's standard format, but also that the US and Israel did not initiate their walkout from the event but Ankara pushed them out.
A large shield spread over Chinese Caspian, Central Asian oil stakes too
The choice of the huge central Turkish Konya air base for the exercise was also significant. Until the Chinese-Turkish drill this was the main NATO base in central Turkey, and until recently the main USAFE weapons training range. However, since the advent of the Chinese fighter-bombers this situation has fundamentally changed. (Air forces from Israel, Turkey and the US conducted their first joint exercises at Konya in June 2001).
5. By sending warplanes over to Turkey, Beijing showed willingness to spread a military shield over its heavy investments in faraway places, such as the energy infrastructure of Central Asia and the Caspian basin, which now claim the largest oil and gas reserves in the world after the Persian Gulf and Russia and where China and the European Union vie as the most recent proactive players.
A military footprint in Turkey stretches China's protective reach to stakes in those regions as well as the Greater Middle East. For this, Beijing is willing to side not only with parties opposed to the US and Israel but to challenge Russia to boot.