In June, Chinese President Xi Jinping extended an invitation to the Israeli prime minister for an official state visit, showing a desire to strengthen ties. Similarly, he welcomed the Palestinian president to Beijing, signaling China’s willingness to engage with both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, the recent attack by Hamas on Israel has raised doubts about Netanyahu’s planned trip, posing a challenge to China’s Middle East strategy.
Israel has expressed dissatisfaction with China’s declared neutrality in the dispute, but some experts believe that China’s efforts to build deeper connections with Arab nations could bring long-term benefits. By navigating this complex situation, China aims to enhance its diplomatic standing and play a constructive role in the region.
China is working to raise its voice despite the obstacles. Zhai Jun, the Chinese envoy to the Middle East, has been speaking on the phone with representatives of the Palestinian and Egyptian governments to call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people. Zhai also made contact with representatives of Israel, stressing China’s commitment to justice, fairness, and peace rather than its own self-interest in the Palestinian conflict. He stated that China is ready to work with the international community to advance peace and foster dialogue.
Wang Yi, the foreign minister of China, has adopted a bolder position in favor of the Palestinians, saying that the injustice experienced by the Palestinian people is what really has to be addressed.
The latest war, Wang said in a chat with a presidential adviser from Brazil, regrettably highlights the necessity of starting sincere peace negotiations and upholding the rights of the Palestinian people. China has traditionally supported a two-state solution that would give the Palestinians their own sovereign state.
During his visit to the Middle East, Secretary of State Antony Blinken reached out to Wang, urging China to use its influence in the region to prevent other countries and groups from getting involved and escalating the conflict. The State Department did not provide specific details about Wang’s response. It is worth noting that China has significant political and commercial ties with Iran, a country that supports Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine. These connections add another dimension to China’s involvement in the region.
The U.S. and China had their first high-level discussion on the Middle East issue since the Hamas attack during this chat. According to scholars Maria Papageorgiou and Mohammad Eslami, Beijing seeks to pose itself as a mediator and exercise its influence in the area by keeping a delicate balance.
China has an interest in resolving the situation to protect its economic interests in the area, even while U.S. backing for Israel may present a chance for China to increase its weaponry sales to disgruntled Arab nations. According to Papageorgiou and Eslami, China’s participation in the Middle East will probably rise during this crisis as it tries to take a more significant part in putting an end to the fighting and defending its economic interests.
Beijing’s strategy, nevertheless, runs the danger of offending Israel. ‘Pro-Palestine neutrality,’ according to Tuvia Gering, a researcher at the Israel-China Policy Center, describes China’s posture as being comparable to its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which showed sympathy for the Kremlin.
In a situation like this, neutrality, in Gering’s opinion, is not an option. He contends that China is taking advantage of the crisis for its own geopolitical gain rather than acting as a responsible great power. China is making efforts to gain support from Arab nations, particularly when it comes to sensitive issues like its treatment of the Uyghur ethnic minority in Xinjiang.
Under President Xi’s leadership, China has pursued an assertive foreign policy. It aims to establish stronger relationships with countries in the Middle East, which play a crucial role in supplying energy to China. This is in line with Xi’s ambitious Belt and Road program, which involves building infrastructure such as roads, airports, seaports, and railways to connect global markets. By doing so, China aims to enhance its influence and economic power on the international stage.
In order to compete with the United States in mediating peace agreements, China has a role in mending diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Professor of international relations Wang Yewei thinks China is better situated than the United States to assist in resolving disputes in diverse regions.
Instead of taking sides in disputes, China’s strategy focuses on serving as a bridge between disputing parties. Due to this, China did not impose sanctions on Russia with the West during the crisis in Ukraine. However, China’s suggestions to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue have been perceived as supporting Russia.
According to Dale Aluf, research director at an Israeli think tank, China’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian problem is more about portraying neutrality and responsibility than acting in those capacities. Israel has also been angered by China’s refusal to label Hamas as a terrorist group, instead referring to it as a “Palestinian resistance movement.”
Throughout the conflict, Chinese official media has strongly criticized Israel, often relying on Iranian news sources to allege that Israel’s military was unlawfully using white phosphorus bombs. They have also pointed fingers at the United States, Israel’s closest ally, as the source of the instability in the region.
China’s narrative on the Israel-Palestine conflict consistently places blame on Israel, which is a significant partner of the United States. This aligns with the propaganda objectives of the ruling Communist Party, which seeks to diminish American influence on the global stage.