Sergio Restelli

China’s weak response, is there something sinister?

While Israel has equated Hamas-led assault on it with the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, the beleaguered West Asian country has expressed its disappointment over China’s approach to the situation as when Tel Aviv expected “stronger condemnation” of Hamas from Beijing, the latter has chosen to do balancing act.

“We call on relevant parties to remain calm, exercise restraint and immediately end the hostilities to protect civilians and avoid further deterioration of the situation. The recurrence of the conflict shows once again that the protracted standstill of the peace process cannot go on. The fundamental way out of the conflict lies in implementing the two-state solution and establishing an independent State of Palestine,” Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement on October 8.

Upset with the Chinese Foreign Ministry statement, Yuval Waks, a senior official at the Israeli embassy in Beijing was quoted by Reuters as saying that “when people are being murdered, slaughtered in the streets, this is not the time to call for a two-state solution.”

More than 700 Israeli were killed, thousand others wounded and dozens were kidnapped when Hamas, a Palestinian militant group launched surprise multi-pronged attacks on Israel by firing a barrage of rockets and sending gunmen into the Gaza Strip on October 7.

According to CNN, at the Nature Party alone, 260 Israeli nationals were killed by Hamas when they were celebrating Jewish festival of Sukkot in Kibbutz Re’im, a desert area close to Gaza. In addition to firing around 2,200 rockets at Israel, as per Israel Defence Forces, Hamas militants entered 22 Israeli towns at early hours on October 7 by land, sea, and air, with some using paragliders.

Israel termed the attack an “unprecedented” assault on it in a generation as Hamas, designated as a terrorist organisation by Israel and most Western countries, including the US, Canada, the UK, and the European Union, for the first time could breach the border that separates Gaza from the West Asian country.

It came a day after the 50th anniversary of the surprise attack on Israel by Egypt and Syria in 1973. Lasting nearly three weeks, from October 6 to October 25, 1973, it is also referred to as the Yom Kippur War, which occurred on the holiest day of the year in Judaism.

Islamic nations like the UAE and Morocco condemned attacks by Hamas on Israeli civilians. Abu Dhabi described surprise attacks on Israel as a “serious and grave escalation,” and said it was “appalled” by reports of Israeli civilians being taken as hostages from their homes. Morocco expressed its deep concern “at the deterioration of the situation and the outbreak of military action in the Gaza Strip.” It further said it “condemns attacks against civilians wherever they may be.”

But China’s Communist regime under Xi Jinping preferred to hide behind diplomatic phrases in its statement on Israel after it was ferociously attacked by Hamas.

“The international community needs to act with greater urgency, step up input into the Palestine question, facilitate the early resumption of peace talks between Palestine and Israel, and find a way to bring about enduring peace,” China’s Foreign Ministry said, hinting clearly about Beijing’s apparent move to sidestep from explicitly condemning Hamas attacks on Israel.

Global Times, a state-backed Chinese daily, instead took the opportunity to target the West for the region’s difficult situation. “The Israeli-Palestinian issue is a complex conglomerate of problems, and external interference is one of the main reasons why this problem has not been resolved and even intensifies hatred,” China’s English language daily said in its editorial.

It further attacked the US for Israel-Palestine conflicts. “The bias and interference by Western countries, led by the US, in the Israel-Palestinian issue have been evident for a long time, and historical Middle East Conflicts have often had US involvement behind the scenes,” Global Times said.

By undertaking this stand, China has apparently tried to convey a message to the world about its geopolitical interests, especially in the Middle East region. It is engaged in the reconstruction of Syria, which has recently joined the Belt and Road Initiative. In March this year, it brokered a peace deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The region serves as a great source of China’s trade and investment. According to Xinhua, the value of overall trade between China and the Middle East countries reached $431.4 billion in 2022, up from $330 billion in 2021. The Middle East is the largest supplier of oil and gas to China. In fact, the region accounts for nearly half of China’s oil imports, making it very important to the country’s energy security. As per Arab News, the two-way trade between Saudi Arabia and China stood at $87 billion in 2021.

The region is also one of the key investment centres of China. In the UAE alone, there are about 6,000 Chinese companies working in infrastructure, energy, and services areas. Beijing aims to achieve $200 billion worth of trade with the UAE by 2030, South China Morning Post quoted China’s special ambassador to the Middle East, Zhang Liming as saying. In 2021, China’s trade with the UAE was $75.6 billion.

In Iran, China has agreed to invest $400 billion over 25 years in exchange for a steady supply of oil to feed the engine of its growth. The New York Times said promised $400 billion Chinese investments will be made in dozens of fields, including banking, telecommunications, ports, railways, health care and information technology.

As such, China’s stakes in the Middle East region are very high and by harshly condemning Hamas attacks on Israel, it does not want to hurt its interests in the region. But it must not be forgotten that its interests are safe and secure so long as peace is there in the region. Attacks on Israel have triggered a massive conflict between Tel Aviv and Hamas and their backers. In days to come, there is a possibility of its snowballing into a major conflagration. In that situation, peace will be a major casualty and with this China’s interests in the region, say analysts.

About the Author
Sergio Restelli is an Italian political advisor, author and geopolitical expert. He served in the Craxi government in the 1990's as the special assistant to the deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice Martelli and worked closely with anti-mafia magistrates Falcone and Borsellino. Over the past decades he has been involved in peace building and diplomacy efforts in the Middle East and North Africa. He has written for Geopolitica and several Italian online and print media. In 2020 his first fiction "Napoli sta bene" was published.
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