For decades, China has sought to pursue a balanced and calm foreign policy towards the Middle East and the conflicts spreading there. However, its foreign policy maintained its keenness to show divergence from the American position and exploit its repeated bias in a number of files, to express a more moderate position that gives it the ability to maintain communication with the various parties.
However, the escalation of tensions and the intensification of international polarization on a number of Middle Eastern issues began to limit Chinese policy, which is known for not taking sides in the conflict, and exposed it to serious challenges and tests. Israel’s war was on Gaza strip These are the latest challenges.
In light of the growing global popular sympathy for the Palestinians, and its manifestations spreading widely and unprecedentedly in China through social media and in limited demonstrations in light of China’s sensitive internal policy towards popular demonstrations, decision-makers in Beijing find themselves facing a challenge to maintain a balanced position between what Israel is committing. Of crimes against civilians in the Gaza Strip, and the position of the Palestinians in the Strip.
The American position of providing full support to Israel and giving it cover in its war constitutes a factor influencing the Chinese position, which takes into account the lack of harmony with American positions.
At the same time, the Chinese-Israeli relations, which have economic dimensions and China’s keenness on a foreign policy that allows it to play roles in resolving international conflicts as an effort competing with Washington, may limit the opportunity for China to take a position critical of Israeli behavior and more inclined to the Palestinian position.
However, the initial Chinese reaction to the confrontation that began on October 7th seemed to belong to the philosophy of balance. Chinese officials avoided direct criticism of the Islamic Resistance Movement (agitation) or condemn it according to the Western position.
They replaced this with phrases of “restraint on both sides” and an emphasis on the “two-state solution” as an alternative to resolving the conflict. This is consistent with Beijing’s long-standing policy of “non-interference” in the internal affairs of other countries and with its basic strategic orientation in dealing with the region.
Chinese positions and officials’ statements carried a degree of “escalation of tone” regarding Israel’s behavior. Beijing criticized the comprehensive Israeli bombing of civilians, condemned violations of international law, demanded the implementation of the two-state solution, and called for the establishment of a humanitarian corridor to allow aid to enter the besieged Gaza Strip. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi went further, describing Israel’s bombing of civilians in Gaza as actions that “beyond the scope of self-defense.”
However, his other statements regarding “the right of states to defend themselves” may be understood as a partial response to international pressure to balance other official Chinese statements in which he shows sympathy with the Palestinians and an eagerness to maintain a state of balance in the situation.
China’s position indicates the use of its veto power Security Council Against draft American resolutions regarding the war on Gaza, due to China’s keenness to adhere to its non-aligned approach and to disagree with the American position.
However, the features of an “Israeli” protest against the Chinese position began to appear, as the “anti-Western Chinese neutrality” position led Israel to retaliate diplomatically by joining the United Kingdom and 50 other countries in the United nations To condemn China’s policies against the Uighurs in Shengyangsaying that they constitute “international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity.”
The Chinese position has evolved
Several factors affect the course of the development of the Chinese position, the most important of which is the possibility of the confrontation in the Gaza Strip expanding into a regional confrontation that brings in new parties to the conflict, most notably Iran’s allies, which will give the conflict new dimensions that go beyond the confrontation in the Gaza Strip, and bring it into new geopolitical calculations that deepen the state of international polarization regarding the current confrontation. .
In this case, China’s relations with Iran and the Arab countries with which it has significant trade and economic relations, in addition to recently signed strategic partnership agreements, will be included in China’s calculations. Also, the increase in Israeli crimes against civilians as is currently the case – which will put pressure on the Western and American position in particular – may find a different response to Chinese foreign policy, which may see in this an opportunity to score diplomatic points in the face of the American position.
The situation also applies to the growing international positions in the countries of the “Global South” in Asia, Latin America and Africa in rejecting Israeli crimes that exceed the limit of reason, in addition to the erosion that may begin to appear in European positions with the prolongation of the Israeli war and its increase in brutality.
The escalation of the US-Chinese dispute over the Taiwan issue and the conflict in Ukraine remains an opportunity for Beijing to exploit the US position, which is strongly biased towards the Israeli aggression, to exert pressure on another aspect of these issues in seeking to balance pressure with Washington.
China’s keenness to export the image of leading global trends against American policy, especially in the countries of the Global South, remains a factor that may prompt it to show more sympathy for the Palestinians, whose struggle is widely portrayed in the countries of the “Global South” as a struggle against colonialism and racist policies.
If a regional power supportive of the Palestinians, such as Iran, and to a lesser extent Turkey and some Arab countries, is able to form a front against American support for Israel in its war on Gaza, China may exploit this to develop a new position more consistent with positions supportive of the Palestinians.
Beijing may find this useful in garnering support for Chinese positions on core issues such as Xinjiang and Taiwan, and supporting China’s vision for global governance, set out in the Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative, and other Chinese initiatives for a new, multipolar world order.
A broader vision of confrontation
China views the confrontation in Gaza from the perspective of its competition with the United States. Since the advent of President Joe Biden’s administration, the latter has been seeking to reduce the escalation in the Middle East region and to mobilize international efforts to focus on the conflict in Ukraine, through which Washington aims to weaken Beijing’s ally in Moscow. In addition to focusing its efforts on the heated confrontation it is waging with Washington in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
It is possible that China sees that the conflict in the Middle East – and the confrontation in the Gaza Strip may be its first spark – is a factor that may push the United States to become involved in the region’s complex conflicts, in which Washington has no choice but to intervene, especially in light of the direct involvement of its main ally, Israel. In which. Without a doubt, Beijing will be more reassured to see Washington once again drawn into the conflict in the region.
Chinese experts believe that the more non-East Asian strategic theaters that require Washington’s attention, the more time and space China will gain to assert its strategic dominance in the Indo-Pacific region.