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Economic Interests and Political Constraints: What Limits China’s Role in Israel-Palestine Issue?

Last week, China’s President Xi Jinping told his counterparts from the BRICS bloc to speak up for justice and peace in the Gaza Strip, while also urging the international community to “act with practical measures” to prevent the conflict from spilling over into the Middle East.

However, analysts believe Beijing’s own stance on the Palestine-Israel issue is still far from any practical step, limited mainly to reiterating its traditional position in favor of a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.

Yet, observers based in China’s capital insist that Beijing’s foreign policy approach should not be seen through the prism of the West.

“Beijing’s foreign policy approach differs from Washington’s,” Einar Tangen told Anadolu from the Chinese capital.

A senior fellow at the Taihe Institute in Beijing, Einar said the tragedy in the besieged Palestinian enclave of Gaza has “no heroes.”

“There are just villains and victims. China has chosen to stand with the people who are dying and suffering,” he said, adding that its aim is to seek an end to disputes through negotiations.

Rather than taking sides, Einar explained, Beijing has condemned the actions of both sides, a policy he said stems from the “failure of the two sides to implement a two-state solution.”

Haiyun Ma, a Chinese-American academic based in the US, backed Einar’s view and said Beijing maintains a “balanced position” on such issues.

“China’s stance has been to maintain as a neutral power … which is consistent with its overall foreign policies towards conflicts,” said Ma, who teaches at Frostburg State University.

Beijing’s position is “hard to change, especially in the context of improving the relations with the US,” he added.

‘Outside solutions will not work’

Einar reaffirmed what the Chinese president told BRICS nations last Tuesday, specifically that any “solution must be reached by those at the center.”

“It cannot be imposed by others,” he said, stressing that there can be no hope for peace “until there is a consensus agreement between these two sides.”

“Washington has tried numerous times to push its agendas, but it has not stopped the ongoing tragedies,” he said, adding that taking sides in the conflict was a “false dichotomy.”

Referring to Xi’s latest address, he said it indicates that Beijing wants “all sides to reach a consensus on a two-state solution.”

“Both sides have blood on their hands, which is why China stands with the people who are suffering, not those causing the bloodshed,” the Beijing-based political analyst said.

Ma said China was “only reiterating its position simply because Beijing is unable to afford to side with one party.”

“What prevents Beijing from taking a bolder position is that Beijing knows it will not impact Israel and it will damage US-China relations, given the powerful Israeli lobbying (in Washington),” he said.

Refusing to draw comparisons between Israel and Taiwan, Ma said “no country can use Israel against the US to leverage its relations with Washington.”

“Palestine will not weigh as important as Taiwan, and for China, Taiwan is a domestic issue and cannot be internationalized,” he added.

“China needs Israeli lobbying to improve relations with the US, just like Saudi Arabia and the UAE.”

Türkiye-based Middle East researcher Haydar Oruc told Anadolu that China had always maintained a “balanced policy” on the Palestine-Israel issue, but the situation has changed after the Oct. 7 attacks.

Since China’s regional policy is based on peace, stability and cooperation, he added, there is “no possibility to maintain its influence in the region in the current conflictual environment.”

Unlike China, Oruc said US policy in the Middle East is one “characterized by conflict and tension.”

“Consequently, the Israeli attacks on Gaza ensure the continuity of the US policy in the region,” he said.

“Therefore, China needs to use all its means to bring the situation in the region back to the one before Oct. 7. In this regard, the initiative launched by the committee of Arab and Islamic countries seems to attach particular importance to China.” 

However, Oruc also pointed out that Beijing has so far “not taken any concrete steps to stop the conflict, and has only made statements on the basis of rhetoric.”

According to him, the humanitarian pause in Gaza brokered by Qatar “could be an opportunity for China to be more closely involved in the process.”

Middle East’s energy critical for world’s second-largest economy

The main area of importance for China, Einar emphasized, is its economic interests in the wider Middle East region.

“Beijing wants peace and trade. Some 60% of its (Beijing’s) oil imports come from the Middle Eastern countries, and it is an important export market,” he said.

“The mistake,” Einar said about views on China’s role in the region, “is trying to look at Beijing’s foreign policy as a reflection of US policies.”

“China, culturally and intellectually, believes in consensus rather than corporatism,” he added.

Beijing rejects the “notion that power creates the right to preach and impose, in favor of the innate responsibility of power to create consensus – a theme that will continue to be a difference in its approach versus the EU and US,” he said.

Chienyu Shih, a Taiwan-based China observer and academic, agrees that Beijing’s economic relations with the Middle East impact its overall policy on the region.

“If China proposes a new solution, it may not please both sides and cause even greater controversy. This will only have a negative impact on China’s relations with the Middle East,” Chienyu told Anadolu from Taipei.

He said the Arab and Gulf nations seek to cooperate with China “in an attempt to move away from an oil-dominated economy and then transform their industrial structure.”

Chienyu, a research fellow at Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research, believes that China will “take advantage of the unstable regional situation in the Gulf.”

Such a situation, he added, helps to “divert the attention of the US” or could even force Washington to “eventually stop exerting pressure on China in the Pacific region.”​​​​​​​

Source: AA