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China and the Middle East – Update up to 28/05/2024

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

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Dear EurasiaPeace readers,

Welcome to our watch on “China’s engagement in the Middle East“! This watch will both be focusing on China’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, of which you can find a more complete analysis in our first watch on China and the Middle East, but also explore less discussed signs of China’s growing influence in the region. Enjoy your reading!

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– Announcement of the 10th summit of the Sino-Arab Cooperation Forum and clarification of China’s position on the ongoing conflict

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has announced the upcoming 10th ministerial conference of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, which will open in Beijing on May 30. According to the Ministry, the summit will be attended by the presidents of Egypt, Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the king of Bahrain. 

One of the main topics discussed at the forum, if not the main topic, will naturally be the Middle East conflict. At a press conference on May 27, Deng Li, China’s Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, clarified China’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and in particular its short-term and long-term avenues for resolution.

In the short term, Mr. Deng listed three actions to be implemented: 1- implement an immediate ceasefire; 2- respond to the humanitarian crisis, and “oppose the forced displacement of the Palestinian people and the collective punishment of the population of Gaza”; 3- prevent the expansion of the conflict in the region. As for long-term vision, China calls for the implementation of the “two-State solution”: from the Chinese perspective, only the creation of a Palestinian state will restore the “injustice” suffered by the people of Gaza and the West Bank. According to Deng Li, “only the realization of the historic wish of the Palestinian people will enable peace to be achieved, and it too will give Israel a full guarantee of its security”.

– China supports international arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders

On Monday May 20, the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced the issue of international arrest warrants for Benyamin Netanyahu, Yoav Gallant and three Hamas leaders. On the Western side, several governments denounced the symbolic equivalence between Israeli and Hamas leaders provoked by the simultaneous issuance of arrest warrants. China, for its part, made no mention of this simultaneity, but expressed clear while moderate support for the ICC investigation. On the same day that the Court’s decision was published, the Foreign Ministry spokesman asserted that China “[supports] all efforts by the international community for a comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the Palestine issue”, and hoped that the ICC would maintain an “objective and fair position”.

Also on May 20, Fu Cong, China’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, called on Israel to “immediately cease its offensive in the city of Rafah”, adding that “the collective punishment of civilians does not create conditions conducive to the rescue of hostages”. 

– Oil tanker bound for China damaged by Houthi fire

At the same time, the intensification of fighting in Rafah is echoed in the south of the Arabian Peninsula, where the Houthis are also stepping up their attacks in the Red Sea, in “retaliation” for the Israeli offensive in Gaza. On May 18, a tanker bound for China was hit by Houthi fire

While China already regrets seeing its foreign trade affected by the turbulence around the Gulf of Aden, the subject of energy is of a different level of criticality – China places an explicit priority on securing its supplies. While the attack on the oil tanker did not cause a break in Chinese diplomacy on the ongoing conflict, it did contribute to China taking a more committed stance on this issue.

– Deepening Sino-Saudi financial cooperation 

Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed bin Abdullah Al-Jadaan met Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng in Beijing on May 20. Although the meeting did not result in any groundbreaking declarations – the communiqué issued at the end of the meeting focused on “deepening multilateral and bilateral economic and trade cooperation” – it was a further sign of the momentum behind the intensification of economic and financial exchanges between the two countries.

Other signs of this momentum include the memorandum of understanding signed between China Zheshang Bank (CZBank) and the Saudi Ministry of Investment a week earlier, on May 13; and, more resoundingly, the opening of a branch of the Bank of China (China’s central bank) in Riyadh last September. Finally, the most substantial element: the authorization of the settlement of Saudi oil in RMB, the Chinese currency – for more details on this event, see our briefing of April 14, 2024.

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