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Chatting With My Chinese Friend (7): Seeing Damascus From Anshan

Editor: Li Kun 丨CCTV.com

10-13-2015 15:58 BJT

By H. Karoui

I left Beijing on October 3, and took the train for Anshan in Liaoning province, where I would spend some days with the Yu family. Before leaving Beijing, I watched again the news, Russia was pounding the cities of Syria.  In Moscow, they say they are targeting ISIS, which some US media denied.
In the previous days, I’ve heard that Russian combat planes, armored personnel carriers (APC), tanks, artillery pieces and helicopters have been deployed to Syria. The Media were already talking about Moscow military build-up, since September 3, 2015.

On 30 September 2015, Russia launched its first airstrikes. It was the beginning of Moscow’s direct military involvement in an intra-Arab internal conflict…

I reached Anshan train station at about 10:30 pm. Jinjing was there, with her new white car and all the emotions of her twenty-five years. Seated beside her in the car, I was watching absent-mindedly the quiet streets of the city.

With a population of about 3,584,000 people, and standing at about 92 kilometers (57 miles) south of Shenyang, the provincial capital, Anshan is home to the “Iron and Steel Group” (ANSTEEL), the second largest steel maker in China, by output. Many families in Anshan have members working at ANSTEEL. The factory, whose buildings and installations cover a large portion of land, has certainly marked the social life of this city since 1948. I had had the occasion of visiting some  parts of the factory, and some rooms of the Museum of Anshan dedicated to the history of steel and steel-production. I was told that the area abounds with the rich iron ore resources. The proved reserves make up one fourth of the total reserves in the country.

Yu, who is engineer, having served for all his career at ANSTEEL, reminded me that the group, formerly called Anshan Iron & Steel Works and Showa Steel Works,  was established in 1916 under Japanese rule in Northeast China. Anshan Iron and Steel Company was established from the two places in 1948.  Next year, this story would make one century.  According to Yu, “ANSTEEL has made great contribution to the Chinese national economic construction. In 60 years, it has cumulatively produced 375 million tons of pig iron, 381 million tons of raw steel and 277 million tons of rolled steel, and paid the tax and profit of 124.5 billion yuan, equivalent to 23 times of the State’s investment for ANSTEEL, not to speak of the innumerable cadres, engineers, technicians, and skilled workers, it has employed and formed."

"It is a success story, "I said.

"Yes, it is indeed," he replied. “Do you understand now why the Japanese clung with nails and teeth to this region? "

"This is clear enough," I said.

A few days later, seated around two black coffee, in the Starbucks near  Shengli square, he asked me out of the blue:

"What are the questions raised in the Arab world by Moscow’s military involvement in Syria?"

"Many,” I said. “Mainly, why the US did not make any objection to this action before Russian airplanes transgressed Turkey airspace?  Was it because they were expecting such a move? Was it because the Russians were already there, since the beginning, and it seems just hard to do as if they weren’t there? Or is there any tacit agreement between Washington and Moscow about Syria? About fighting ISIS and terrorism? Some observers have already suggested that Washington is now better prepared to negotiate a post-war settlement in Syria, granting political survival to Al-Assad. If this assumption makes sense, then the Russian military operations would be just a way to enlarge the limits of Bashar's reach, before the beginning of Geneva 3."

Yu pondered for a moment, then said:

"I will not ask you who is going to win the war, after the Russian intervention."

"You don’t ask me because you are enough wise to know that nobody wins this kind of wars. You also know that the noise of weapons is always louder before going back to negotiations. And the other side will do the same. I mean, they will get more weapons, more fighters, and those who support them among the rich Arab of the Middle East, will continue to pump and convey huge amounts of money, to make sure at least that they don't lose face. You know they still refuse to negotiate a solution which will grant the political survival of Bashar al-Assad. Very powerful and influent leaders in the Gulf hold this position. The Arab League has officially ousted the representative of al-Assad’s regime, giving the seat of Syria to the opposition. It is hard to change these political facts. We are talking about resolutions voted by the Arab states, not by any Syrian opposition faction. Let me ask you in my turn: do you think the Russians can change these facts? Can they change an Arab League resolution?"

Yu did not answer. For a moment, he stared at me, and said, "I don’t know whether Moscow could do that or not. But Moscow says it is fighting ISIS. Is that not what the Arabs and the anti-ISIS coalition are doing? How come they say they are fighting the same enemy and disagreeing about everything?"

"Well seen, Yu. They are fighting the same enemy, but not hitting the same targets! And you know what? We cannot change the past, but we still can change the present. The present and the past are part of history.  It is unfortunate that the the Russians did not yet get the lessons from their former successive failures in the Middle East, Afghanistan included. Nor did the Americans by the way, but the latter are still very influential and have powerful friends and allies, although they have been dragged in mud and blood too. Once upon a time, Soviet Russia was controlling several Arab countries: Egypt, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Libya, and to some extent Algeria… the same countries which represent their defeat today. You know what some Arab governments think in the Gulf:  that if Mr. Putin was really willing to fight terrorists in Syria and Iraq, he should consult with the Arab leaders who are concerned about fighting the same enemy. And you know what other people (in the West for example) say: that maybe Putin isn't concerned with fighting ISIS more than by granting Russia a foothold in Syria and the region in any future settlement about Syria."

I looked through the windows of the coffee-shop. It is a luminous day in Anshan. It struck me that this city has been burnt down twice, during the Boxer Rebellion and the Russo-Japanese War. It was part of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo, before its liberation by the PLA.

"Let's hope that the worse is still avoidable, I said."


( The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )



Panview offers a new window of understanding the world as well as China through the views, opinions, and analysis of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

Panview offers an alternative angle on China and the rest of the world through the analyses and opinions of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.



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