Beijing: Analysts have warned of the increasing security threat to Beijing as Chinese jihadis are on the rise in Syria, thereby forcing the country to rethink its Middle East strategy.
According to a report appearing in the South China Morning Post, China has long limited its participation in the region's affairs but has recently been concerned with the national security threat posed by the Islamist fighters in Syria who hailed from Xinjiang and returned to China.
Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, estimated there were about 5,000 Chinese fighters in Syria, most of whom were fighting with the Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) in northern Syria.
According to Middle East expert Yin Gang, the Chinese fighters are mostly Uygurs, not all 5,000 of them are with the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (or Turkistan Islamic Party), which considers Xinjiang to be East Turkestan.
"These people not only fight alongside international terrorist forces in Syria, but also they will possibly return to China posing a threat to China's national security," said Li Wei, a terrorism expert at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
The role of the Chinese jihadis in Syria was a topic that President Bashar al-Assad spoke about last month in an interview with Chinese Phoenix TV, saying "they know your country more than the others, so they can do more harm in your country than others".
Unlike other rebel groups, the Turkistan Islamic Party is a very secretive organisation and they live among themselves, according to activists in northern Syria. They are active in parts of Idlib and in the strategic town of Jisr al-Shughour, as well as the Kurdish Mountains in the western province of Latakia.
Unlike other fighters who have come to Syria, the Chinese have not merged into local communities and the language has been a major barrier.