– Current crisis in Palestine may be an opportunity for China, US to stabilize relations, analysts tells Anadolu
– Analysts refuse to draw comparisons between China’s role in Saudi Arabia-Iran rapprochement and Israel-Palestine conflict
– Middle East needs security which China cannot provide, says expert
When China was rolling out the red carpet for world leaders at its third Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on Oct. 18, the Middle East was boiling as fresh conflict raged between Israel and Palestine.
That was when President Xi Jinping made his first direct comments on the situation, more than 10 days after the escalation kicked off.
“China stands ready to strengthen coordination with Egypt and other Arab countries to work for a comprehensive, just and enduring solution to the Palestinian question at an early date,” Xi had told visiting Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly.
“The fundamental way out of the recurring Palestinian-Israeli conflicts is to implement the two-state solution, establish an independent State of Palestine and achieve peaceful coexistence between Palestine and Israel,” he added, reiterating China’s traditional stance on the issue.
A week later, his point man at the UN justified why China blocked a US-led resolution about the Gaza Strip, which has been facing constant bombardment by Israel that has now killed more than 7,300 Palestinians, including around 3,000 children and over 1,700 women.
“If adopted,” Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun said about the UN-led resolution, “it will completely dash the prospect of the two-state solution and plunge the Palestinian and Israeli peoples into a vicious cycle of hatred and confrontation.”
In between, Beijing steered out of getting directly into the conflict but stressed on ending attacks on civilians and establishing a humanitarian corridor.
Addressing media alongside EU foreign affairs chief Joseph Borrell in Beijing, Foreign Minister Wang Yi even asked: “The Israeli nation is no longer in a state of diaspora, but when will the Palestinian nation be able to return to their homeland?”
On the armed attack by Hamas on Israeli military units along the Gaza border, Wang told his Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen: “All countries have the right to self-defense.”
“But,” Wang, who is currently on an official trip to the US in an effort to stabilize bilateral relations with Washington, told Cohen, “it is important to observe international humanitarian law and protect civilians.”
“Right before his visit to the US, China actually amended her position, probably in order to foster a friendly atmosphere,” Chienyu Shih, a research fellow at the Taiwan Institute for National Defense and Security Research, told Anadolu.
China and the US have held many rounds of negotiations to stabilize bilateral relations that have taken multiple hits since 2018.
Wang’s trip to Washington follows his US counterpart Antony Blinken’s Beijing meetings in June where he met Xi, who said the world “needs a generally stable China-US relationship.”
“Whether the two countries can find the right way to get along bears on the future and destiny of humanity,” Xi emphasized.
Haiyun Ma, a Chinese-American scholar at the Frostburg State University in the US, agrees.
“The sudden conflict came at a time when China is trying to improve relationship with the US,” Ma told Anadolu.
Pointing to continued trips to Beijing by US officials and lawmakers, he said: “China has been pressed by the US to be more ‘constructive’ in the Israeli-Hamas conflicts, (which) means to condemn Hamas.”
Several top former and current US officials, lawmakers and businessmen have visited Beijing since Blinken’s trip.
Xi has granted audience to several of them, including Henry Kissinger, the former US secretary of state.
There are huge expectations that the two sides are preparing for Xi’s visit to the US next month to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Partnership summit, where he will have talks with US President Joe Biden.
On Beijing’s position on the latest conflict, Ma, however, stressed: “Despite the US pressure, China tries to be even-handed.”
Beijing has had full diplomatic relations with Palestine since 1989 and Israel since 1992.
It also dispatched Zhai Jun, its special envoy to Middle Eastern nations, to the region soon after the latest flare-up.
‘No comparison with Saudi Arabia, Iran rapprochement’
Hong Kong-based international affairs analyst Andrew KP Leung refused to compare China’s role in on the Israel-Palestine issue to its efforts for rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
It was a “landmark” in Middle East diplomacy, Andrew told Anadolu, “but the situation in Palestine is completely different.”
Ma agrees about drawing parallels with the diplomatic breakthrough Beijing oversaw with Riyadh and Tehran.
“Palestine and Israeli relations are far more complicated than Saudi-Iranian relations. Saudi-Iranian reconciliation had been already undergoing when China (got) involved,” he said.
“The US and the West had been pushing or encouraging for a reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but the US and the West do the opposite now on the Palestine-Israel conflicts.”
He said Chinese influence “in the Middle East and Palestine-Israeli relations is really limited and conditioned.”
While China may have increased its economic footprints in the region, it has “no real tool” to engage more with the conflicting parties, Ma added.
“What the Middle East really needs is security that China cannot provide,” he said, emphasizing that Beijing would not do anything to hurt its economic ties with Israel that are worth over $24 billion annually.
The only thing Beijing “can do is probably encourage Hamas and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to unite,” he said.
“Beijing can play the card to contribute some aid to the Palestinians to reach unity. Internal conciliation within Palestine is highly possible given the fact that both Hamas and PLO cannot resist this attempt from China and many countries,” he added.
‘Path to peace can’t be bought with lives of innocent people’
Beijing-based analyst Einar Tangen told Anadolu that China’s interests in the Middle East are “about access to its energy resources and trade potential routes and development.”
“China has indicated a willingness in the past to mediate in the Israel-Palestinian issue but only by invitation by the parties,” he said, calling the Riyadh-Tehran pact a move to “foster peace” in the region.
“Short of going to war, which would only compound the issue, not sure what else China could do, as Israel is backed by the US, UK and the (Narendra) Modi government (in India),” said Einar.
“The Muslim communities and the Global South overwhelmingly support Palestine, with a few exceptions. China continues to call for a cease fire and a two-state solution based on a consensus on both sides.”
“Why China supports Palestine and not Hamas … the answer is the same as why it doesn’t support Israel. The path to peace cannot be bought with lives of innocent people,” he said.
China’s desire is to “see a consensus solution arrived at through a consultation process that recognizes the mutual interests and needs of the parties involved,” said Einar, a senior fellow at the Beijing-based Taihe Institute.
“This consensus approach differs from America’s corporate, 51% rules, approach, but given the realities of a multi-polar world, Beijing sees this as the only realistic path to avoid conflicts,” he added.
Palestinian scholar and editor Ramzy Baroud agrees with Einar’s point on support to Tel Aviv by the US and its allies.
“The American lack of credibility has encouraged others to try to play the role of the new Middle East peace broker,” Baroud told Anadolu.
Analysis of Beijing’s statements on the ongoing Israel’s war on Gaza shows a “stronger Chinese position, in fact uncompromisingly stronger,” Baroud said.
“China’s position has been unconditionally supportive of Palestine. Following this war, China is going to re-emerge not only as a trade partner, (but) as a strong political partner and player in the Middle East. Time will tell (that) China is giving all the indications that it is ready to play its role,” he explained.
However, Baroud added that Israel is “unlikely to concede to China’s new power status due to its intricate and still strong ties with the Washington elites.”