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China’s mediation in Gaza war beset with pitfalls

China has been busy meeting Hamas and Fatah leaders and hosting them in Beijing to iron out their sharp differences.

China’s mediation in Gaza war beset with pitfalls

Outreach: Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) with his Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas. Reuters

Vappala Balachandran

Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat

AFTER the Antony Blinken-Wang Yi meeting in Washington DC, the BBC reported on November 1, 2023, that “the US would work with China on trying to find a resolution” of the Gaza war. This point is now relevant as Israel has run aground in the Gaza quicksand, with even the Israel Defence Forces questioning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategic aims.

Simultaneously, the US-led Western bloc has failed to exercise any check on the right-wing-dominated Israeli government even after over 37,000 Palestinians have been killed, with the possibility of the conflict escalating to a regional war with Iran and with the Netanyahu government appearing to be nonchalant even after inflaming its Opposition.

Will China, which managed an ‘impossible’ rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran in 2023, leaving the US “on the sidelines during a moment of significant change”, as the New York Times said in March last year, be able to bring peace in Palestine? Does Beijing have the adeptness to do that impossible task? Will its intervention risk ruining its reputation by getting involved in the quagmire?

Before the Iran-Saudi deal, there was a mistaken impression that China was hesitant to intervene in other nations’ knotty problems. This is not correct. The Mercator Institute of China Studies had said in 2018 that, by 2017, China was mediating in nine Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) countries’ conflicts, compared to only three in 2012, when Xi Jinping took over as the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. This was confirmed last month by the Stimson Centre, which added North Korea, where the Chinese aim is to ensure that the US “does not determine the future of the Peninsula bilaterally with North Korea.”

A 2019 ‘Cairn International’ assessment by Guy Burton, visiting fellow at the London School of Economics (Middle East Centre), identified three phases of the Chinese policy towards the Israel-Palestine dispute: the first was “ideological and revolutionary” during the Mao Zedong era, favouring the Arab world, and rebuffing Israel’s approaches for relations; the second, a ‘pragmatic’ policy under Deng Xiaoping, using foreign policy for economic, technical and agricultural development by establishing diplomatic relations with Israel in 1992; and the third, from the late 1990s, seeking good relations with both parties in the conflict.

According to the Emirates Policy Centre (EPC), the third phase coincided with the rise of the Gulf states as a critical energy source since China transformed from being an exporter to an oil importer in 1993. China’s regional policy also focused on enhancing economic and trade ties with Israel and discouraging Palestinians from ‘internationalising’ their cause. In 2017, China and Israel signed an ‘Innovative Comprehensive Partnership’ agreement as China became Israel’s largest trading partner. During this period, China invested $4 billion in Israel, increasing bilateral trade to $24 billion from $11 billion in 2012.

The marker of the fourth phase, in my view, was November 21, 2023, when President Xi Jinping categorically told an online BRICs Summit that China supported “the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people and the establishment of an independent state” and called for a ceasefire.

Xi also suggested an international conference “to build international consensus for peace and to work for a comprehensive, just and sustained solution to the question of Palestine as soon as possible.” To this, Israel expressed its ‘deep disappointment’.

China also spoke during the International Court of Justice proceedings and said in February that “in pursuit of the right to self-determination, the Palestinian people’s use of force to resist foreign oppression and to complete the establishment of an independent state is an inalienable right well founded in international law.” This was almost like Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s statement on October 25, 2023, that Hamas was “a liberation group, mujahideen waging a battle to protect its lands and people.”

Even before this, there were some signs of China realigning its West Asia policy to assume leadership of the Global South. China had condemned Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza and supported the United Nations’ investigation into allegations of ‘crimes against humanity’, even as it invested $4 billion in Israel.

The reason why China lost interest in Israel could be attributed to Israel’s appointment, under US pressure during the Donald Trump era, of an ‘Advisory Committee for Examining National Security Aspects in Foreign Investments’ in 2019 to investigate Chinese investments. This was confirmed during President Joe Biden’s Israel visit in July 2022, with the establishment of a ‘strategic dialogue’ between both countries during Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s tenure.

According to the EPC, another reason for Xi’s strong stand on Gaza was PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s ‘enthusiastic’ support to the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor, declared during the September 2023 G20 Summit in New Delhi and showcased as one of the projects of the American Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment to compete with the BRI. In these circumstances, Israel is unlikely to agree to China’s mediation as long as the Netanyahu government is in power.

Meanwhile, China has been busy meeting Hamas and Fatah leaders and hosting them in Beijing to iron out their sharp differences. Lin Qin, professor of politics at the Guangdong Institute in China, told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed on May 8 that intra-Palestinian differences must be resolved to present a united front during the proposed international peace conference. This is because the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority had, under US pressure, agreed to adopt specific reforms in preparation for a post-war Gaza administration.

On April 30, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lin Jian announced that both Fatah and Hamas leaders had met in Beijing to have an “in-depth and candid dialogue”. This was a follow-up of a meeting in Moscow on March 1. The second was to have been held by June-end.

However, The Foundation for the Defence of Democracies, based in Washington DC, described by Prof John Mearsheimer as an ‘Israel lobby’, reported that Fatah and Hamas leaders blamed each other on June 24 for the indefinite postponement of the June reconciliation talks in Beijing.

Views are personal

#Antony Blinken #China #Gaza #Hamas #Israel #United States of America USA #Washington

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