In midst of the war between Israel and Iran-backed Hamas, on November 1 the Wall Street Journal reported that Israel is suddenly erased from China’s online maps. Iran has traditionally threatened to wipe Israel off the map, but this time China beat them to it digitally. Why?
Israel was removed from Baidu Maps earlier today.
I'm just finishing a long day so was finally able to verify for myself.
Neighboring countries are still named (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, etc).
If you zoom in on Israel, just city names.
Major provocation from China. pic.twitter.com/SgxDjj6RdT
— Shaun Maguire (@shaunmmaguire) October 31, 2023
Given the Chinese Communist Party’s sensitivity to national borders, Alibaba and Baidu’s online maps sans Israel likely received a wink and a nod from the leadership. One example of Beijing’s obsession with borders is its alleged insistence that the film Barbie include its ‘nine-dash line’ in the South China Sea, reinforcing its territorial claims which are not internationally recognized. China has also used this standard to levy fines on hotel websites and other companies in the past.
Two Chinese researchers pointed out in the Chinese newsletter Pekingnology that archived webpages of articles showed Israel was missing in Baidu and Alibaba maps since May 2021, well before the October 7 massacre. Nonetheless, that was during a time of heightened U.S. tension over Sino-Israel high-tech cooperation, and the Chinese UN Security Council (UNSC) presidency in May 2021 coincided with renewed Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which Beijing voted against Israel.
In this light, some ponder whether erasing Israel from Chinese maps is a move of provocation or diplomacy?
Opportunity for China-Russia-Iran order in Eurasia?
With China’s traditional posture of non-interference internationally, perhaps this was and is a diplomatic trial balloon. During its 2021 UNSC presidency, China faced international backlash for its abuses in Xinjiang, and sought ways to improve its international image with the Muslim and Arab world on which it heavily relies for energy imports. Siding with the Palestinians was an opportunity to discredit the U.S. and win moral support from Arab countries in the Middle East.
Similarly, China’s support of Palestinians after the October attack has won accolades from Hamas, and Hamas’ ex-political Chief Khaled Meshaal in an interview to TRT Arabic urged China and Russia to get involved in the ongoing Israel-Palestine war in Gaza and “abolish U.S.’ monopoly” in the Middle East.
Source: Screenshot from Youtube.
This would be in line with China’s long-term posture across Eurasia, as evidenced by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization(SCO) and the Belt and Road Initiative, in which a China-Russia-Iran led order displaces the current western order across the heartland. On July 4 this year, America’s Independence Day no less, Iran was admitted as a full member of the SCO, fulfilling Zibniew Brezenski’s warning in The Grand Chessboard (1997) that America’s security depended upon the geopolitical pluralism of Eurasia and its most dangerous threat consisted of “a grand coalition of China, Russia, and perhaps Iran.”
However, this Eurasia coalition may have a wild card in another member of the SCO—India.
India—a wild card in Eurasia
In the aftermath of Hamas October 7 massacre, India came out strong in support of Israel, a break from its traditional stance of supporting Palestinians. Since Prime Minister Modi took power in 2014, New Delhi has been upgrading ties with Jerusalem especially in counter-terrorism with the rise of ISIS back then. As Michel Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center observed, “India views the current conflict through the lens of counterterrorism, and it views the Israeli assault on Gaza as a counterterrorism operation. And counterterrorism operations don’t pause for humanitarian truces.”
As such former Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal called on China and Russia but omitted India, despite its SCO membership, to end U.S. monopoly in the region. India also eyes fellow members China and Pakistan warily due to ongoing territorial disputes over Aksai Chin, Arunachal Pradesh and Kashmir. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a research institute focused on conflict and armaments, between the years 2018 to 2022 India was the largest importer of Israeli weapons totaling US$1.2 billion, or one-third of Israel’s arms exports during that period. Given this, India is maintaining its freedom of action on the international stage as a price-maker instead of a price-taker, and remains a wild card in Eurasia as former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo once described.
But India does have clarity on the true nature of Israel’s current war as a war against Islamic terrorism. As Mosab Hassan Yousef, son of Hamas leader known as the Green Prince rightly argued regarding Hamas’ manifesto, he underscored that Hamas is not fighting a national war over borders but a religious war, to eventually establish an Islamic state on the rubbles of the state of Israel. On this point, the Green Prince, Khaled Meshaal, Modi and Netanyahu find themselves in agreement even while the rest of the world disagrees, strange bedfellows in even stranger times.