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Business News/ Politics / China Steps Up Support for Palestinian Cause in Challenge to U.S. Mideast Policy
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China Steps Up Support for Palestinian Cause in Challenge to U.S. Mideast Policy


Leader Xi Jinping has unleashed a gust of diplomacy around Gaza, despite limited direct involvement the region.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi shakes hands with Riyad al-Maliki, the foreign minister for the Palestinian Authority, in a red tie, at a meeting in Beijing on Monday. Premium
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi shakes hands with Riyad al-Maliki, the foreign minister for the Palestinian Authority, in a red tie, at a meeting in Beijing on Monday.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping is seizing on the conflict in Gaza to portray his country as a force for stability in the Muslim world, in contrast with what Beijing casts as American meddling in the Middle East.

In recent weeks, China has ramped up its appeals to halt the Israel-Gaza war, a show of diplomatic bustle laden with humanitarian platitudes but light on substantive proposals for achieving a cease-fire.

China’s foreign minister on Monday hosted top diplomats from Arab and Muslim-majority countries in Beijing to discuss ways to mediate peace, building on efforts by Beijing’s Middle East envoy, who shuttled across the region this month to pledge Chinese support for talks to end the fighting in Gaza.

Xi has weighed in as well. Fresh from his San Francisco summit with President Biden last week, the Chinese leader discussed the Israel-Hamas conflict with French President Emmanuel Macron in a Monday phone call, before joining fellow leaders from the Brics bloc of emerging economies for a videoconference on the war the following day.

Xi agreed with Macron that “the ‘two-state solution’ is the fundamental way to resolve the cycle of Palestinian-Israeli conflict," according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s readout of the meeting.

China’s burst of diplomacy around Gaza is meant more to boost its image as a responsible global power than deliver substantive progress in resolving the decadeslong conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, experts on Chinese foreign policy said.

“The Chinese do not bear the illusion that they can create a solution that no one thought of before," said Yun Sun, director of the China Program at the Stimson Center, a Washington think tank. “If solving the issue is unlikely, then it is more important for China to be present at the table, to play an active role, and to claim leadership when possible."

Under Xi, China has leaned more forcefully into its self-styled status as a champion of peace and humanitarian values, often in contrast with what Beijing criticizes as U.S. warmongering in global hot spots. Since Hamas launched the Oct. 7 attacks on southern Israel that sparked the war, Chinese officials have repeatedly urged an immediate cease-fire and voiced support for Palestinian statehood, while state media accused Washington of pro-Israel bias and meddling in the Middle East.

The U.S., while committed to helping Israel defeat Hamas, has been pressing for Israeli restraint, including calls to minimize civilian casualties and allow a pause in the fighting to get humanitarian aid to people in Gaza.

Beijing has sharpened its focus on the Muslim world in recent years, stepping up engagement with Middle Eastern and other powers as it sought to temper criticism of the Communist Party’s efforts to forcibly assimilate Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang. It also notably brokered a detente between Saudi Arabia and Iran this past spring.

Chinese diplomats are now tapping these gains as they try to mediate in the Israel-Gaza conflict.

On Monday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi chaired a meeting in Beijing with visiting foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Indonesia and the Palestinian National Authority, as well as the secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the world’s largest grouping of Muslim nations.

“China is a good friend and brother of Arab and Islamic countries," said Wang, who restated Beijing’s willingness to work with partners in the Muslim world to end the Israel-Gaza war and forge a lasting peace. “Israel should stop the collective punishment of the people of Gaza and open a humanitarian corridor as soon as possible to prevent a wider humanitarian disaster," Wang was quoted as saying in the Chinese readout.

The visiting foreign ministers said Arab and Islamic countries hope to work more closely with China to restart peace talks and promote the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the basis of the two-state solution, according to the Chinese readout.

The Beijing confab came after China’s special envoy on the Middle East, Zhai Jun, pressed his government’s peacemaking messages in meetings around the region in recent weeks, most recently at last week’s Manama Dialogue, an annual security forum in Bahrain.

China has avoided directly condemning Hamas for its Oct. 7 attacks while issuing broad denunciations of violence against civilians—in contrast with Washington’s preference for censuring Hamas in diplomatic statements about Gaza, including at the United Nations.

At a U.N. Security Council meeting last week, China backed a resolution calling for “humanitarian pauses and corridors through the Gaza Strip to facilitate the provision of essential goods and services," which the council approved. Beijing’s representative at the meeting also expressed concern over the siege of Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza, which Israel said was being used for operations by Hamas militants, and urged Israel to cease military operations against civilian facilities.

China is aligning itself with pro-Palestinian constituencies, as well as anti-Israel and anti-U.S. voices in the Middle East and elsewhere, said Enrico Fardella, a professor at the University of Naples ‘L’Orientale’ and director of the ChinaMed Project, which studies Beijing’s influence in the wider Mediterranean region.

The goal is “to maximize the gains for Beijing’s international status at minimum cost," by “showing the superiority of its own diplomatic action in the face of the Americans’ one-sided and pro-Israel position," he said.

Beijing’s perceived partiality toward the Palestinians and limited leverage over Israel, however, would likely curtail its ability to shape a speedy resolution to the war, some experts say.

“Siding with Palestine is not going to contribute to the solution of the issue, and it does not project an image of neutrality," said Sun at the Stimson Center. “It’s similar to the Ukraine war—while China thinks it is being fair and neutral, people see it as pro-Russia."

Israel meanwhile has pressed ahead with its military campaign in Gaza, where Israeli forces have largely taken control of the northern parts of the territory and are shifting the focus of their operations to southern Gaza.

While Beijing can exert some influence in Middle East affairs, thanks to its ties with Iran, its “power to shape events in the region is quite limited," said Nurettin Akçay, a guest researcher at Shanghai University who has studied China-Middle East relations. “The ongoing crisis has presented certain opportunities for China, but it has also underscored the reality that China lacks the required hard power to pursue its objectives."

Write to Chun Han Wong at

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