China and the Middle East – Update up to 14/04/2024

The files we follow: China in the Indo-Pacific; Chinese Defence and Taiwan Strait; China and the Middle East; Chinese economic strategies and tendencies; Dynamics and challenges of Chinese international tourism…     


Dear EurasiaPeace readers,

Welcome to the first edition of “China’s engagement in the Middle East” watch! To open this theme, we offer you a quick analysis of China’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has figured prominently in China’s diplomatic efforts towards the region since October 2023. Recent events will be examined susbsequently. Enjoy your reading!

China’s general position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Under Mao Zedong, China expressed sympathy for the Palestinian cause – a position in line with a more general policy of defending oppressed peoples. The growth in trade with Israel since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1992, particularly on the economic front, had nevertheless seemed to rebalance this approach, giving China the advantage of neutrality.

Yet it was not neutrality that characterized the positions taken by Beijing and Chinese nationals on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the early days following the attack on October 7, China quickly made its bias felt by never mentioning Hamas – which it does not officially categorize as a terrorist entity, but considers to be a resistance organization – and only deploring the civilian suffering on both sides several days later. Initially, it only referred to the need to implement the “two-state solution” (1).

As the Israeli army advanced in the Gaza Strip, the Chinese authorities added to their Palestinian death toll by recounting the suffering of the Gazan population, without mentioning the Israeli hostages held by Hamas. A wave of anti-Semitism, unregulated by the authorities, has also swelled on the Chinese net, which is usually tightly controlled by censors.

This position was welcomed by a number of Arab states, whose leaders China welcomed in November 2023; by the Houthis, who reportedly indicated that they would not target vessels flying the Chinese flag or housing Chinese personnel; and also by part of the “global South“, which perceived Washington’s categorical condemnation of Hamas as a lack of impartiality and support for an unjust cause. China exploited this dissatisfaction with the American reaction, pointing out that the United States was almost directly responsible for aggravating the conflict through its vetoes at the UN and its military support for Israel. It warned abundantly against a potential “conflagration” in the region following the dispatch of US vessels to secure maritime trade in the Red Sea – which was in its own interests, however, as its foreign trade suffers significantly from instability in the area.

In terms of diplomatic efforts, China has continually reiterated its calls for dialogue, ceasefire and political resolution of the conflict, but these have been followed by little concrete action. Several European and North American states have called on China to use its influence on Iran, which materially supports Hamas, to get Teheran itself to put pressure on the organization. But Chinese researchers, for their part, reply that China’s influence on Iran is overestimated, and that it does not have the power to influence the course of the conflict. We’ll take a closer look at the elements of China’s discourse on the conflict in the following briefs.

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