For decades, China has sought to pursue a balanced, calm foreign policy toward the Middle East and its spreading conflicts. However, its foreign policy is still keen to express differences with the US position and use its recurring bias on many issues to express more moderate positions, giving it the ability to maintain communication with all parties.
However, escalating tensions and increasing international polarization on some Middle East issues have begun to constrain China’s policy, known for not taking sides in conflicts, and face severe challenges and tests. Israel’s war on Gaza is the latest of these challenges.
Global sympathy for the Palestinians is growing, and expressions of it have been more widely disseminated in China than ever before through social media and limited demonstrations given China’s sensitive internal policies toward popular demonstrations. Policymakers in Beijing find themselves faced with the challenge of balancing Israel’s crimes against civilians in Gaza with the Palestinian position in the Strip.
The United States’ position of fully supporting Israel and providing cover for its war is a factor affecting China’s position, which is not consistent with that of the United States.
At the same time, the Sino-Israeli relationship has an economic dimension, and China is keen on a foreign policy that would allow it to play a role in resolving international conflicts to compete with Washington. All of this may limit China’s opportunities to adopt a critical stance on Israeli actions and a more favorable stance on Palestinian positions.
However, China’s initial response to the confrontation that began on October 7 appeared to be one of balance. Chinese officials have avoided directly criticizing or condemning the Islamic resistance movement (Hamas), similar to Western positions.
They replaced it with language that “both sides exercise restraint” and emphasized a “two-state solution” as an alternative to resolving the conflict. This is in line with Beijing’s long-standing policy of “non-interference” in other countries’ internal affairs and its basic strategic orientation in dealing with regional issues.
China’s stance and official statements have provided a degree of “escalation in tone” over Israel’s actions. Beijing has criticized Israel’s sweeping bombing of civilians and condemned its violations of international law, calling for a two-state solution and the creation of humanitarian corridors to allow aid into the besieged Gaza Strip. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi went a step further, saying Israel’s bombing of civilians in Gaza “went beyond the scope of self-defense.”
However, his other remarks about the “right of national self-defense” may be understood as part of a response to international pressure to counterbalance other official Chinese statements, which have expressed sympathy for the Palestinians and a desire to maintain a balance in the situation.
China’s use of veto power in the Security Council to oppose the US draft resolution on the Gaza War shows that China is keen to adhere to the non-alignment policy and does not agree with the US position.
However, the characteristics of Israel’s protest against China’s stance began to emerge, and the “China’s anti-Western neutrality” stance led Israel to retaliate diplomatically. It joined the United Kingdom and 50 other countries in condemning certain Chinese policies at the United Nations, saying that they constituted “international crimes, especially It is a crime against humanity.”
The evolution of China’s position
Several factors influence the development of China’s position, the most important of which is the potential for the confrontation in Gaza to expand into a regional confrontation that would introduce new parties to the conflict, especially allies of Iran. This would give the conflict a new dimension beyond the confrontation in the Gaza Strip and bring it into new geopolitical considerations, thus deepening the international polarization of the current confrontation.
In this case, in addition to the recently signed strategic partnership agreement, China’s relations with Iran and Arab countries with which it has important economic and trade relations will also be included in China’s calculations. At the same time, the current increase in Israeli crimes against civilians will put pressure on Western and American positions, which may lead to a different response in Chinese foreign policy. China may find this an opportunity to score diplomatic points in the face of the U.S. stance.
This situation also applies to the growing international stance of “global south” countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa, which refuse to accept Israel’s crimes beyond the limits of reason. Moreover, as Israel’s wars lengthen and become more brutal, Europe’s position may begin to erode.
The escalation of disputes between China and the United States over Taiwan and the conflict in Ukraine remains an opportunity for Beijing to exploit the United States’ strong opposition to Israel’s aggressive stance to apply pressure on another aspect of these issues, seeking to balance pressure with Washington.
China’s keenness to export an image of opposition to US policy as a dominant global trend, especially in countries in the Global South, remains a factor prompting it to show more sympathy for the Palestinians, whose struggles are widely described in countries of the “global south” The struggle against colonial and racist policies.
If a regional power that supports the Palestinians, such as Iran, and to a lesser extent Turkey and some Arab states, is able to form a front against U.S. support for Israel’s war in Gaza, China may use this to craft a position more aligned with its support for the Palestinians. A consistent new position.
Beijing may find this helpful in gaining support for China’s positions on key issues such as Xinjiang and Taiwan, and support China’s global agenda as articulated in the Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative, and other Chinese initiatives to build a new multipolar world order. Governance Vision.
A broader perspective on confrontation
China views the Gaza confrontation from the perspective of competition with the United States. The latter has sought to de-escalate tensions in the Middle East and mobilize international efforts to focus attention on the conflict in Ukraine since President Joe Biden’s administration took office. In addition to focusing on fierce confrontations with Washington in the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, Washington aims to weaken Beijing’s allies in Moscow.
China may view the conflict in the Middle East, of which the confrontation in Gaza was likely its first flashpoint, as a factor pushing the United States into the region’s complex conflicts, leaving Washington with little choice but to intervene, especially given its key allies Israel is directly involved. There is no doubt that Beijing will be more reassured to see Washington once again involved in the region’s conflicts.
Chinese experts believe that the more non-East Asian strategic battlefields require Washington’s attention, the more time and space China will gain to maintain its strategic dominance in the Indo-Pacific region.