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China’s Attitude Toward the Israel-Gaza War

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China’s Attitude Toward the Israel-Gaza War

China’s position on the current conflict, and the Israel-Palestine issue more broadly, is not unusual. So why is it attracting so much attention?

China’s Attitude Toward the Israel-Gaza War

Palestinians inspect the damage of destroyed building after Israeli airstrikes in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, Oct. 10, 2023.

Credit: AP Photo/Hatem Ali

In the early morning of October 7, local time, armed forces from Gaza, led by Hamas, suddenly launched an attack on Israel. They entered Israel and killed more than 1,400 people, including civilians, and took more than 100 people back to Gaza as hostages. Israel, which was hit hard, declared the country to be in a state of war. Israel has counterattacked with large-scale bombings of Gaza, showing little concern for civilian casualties. Over 2,800 people have been killed in Gaza so far.

On October 8, the spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs gave China’s first official response to the escalating violence: “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.”

At the Foreign Ministry’s regular press conference on October 9, spokesperson Mao Ning was asked 16 times about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In her answer, she clearly mentioned that “We… oppose and condemn acts that harm civilians.” Mao also reiterated China’s call for Palestinian statehood, saying that the “key” to lasting peace and security “lies in the realization of the two-state solution and establishment of an independent State of Palestine.”

On October 13, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who also heads the Chinese Communist Party’s Foreign Affairs Office, further addressed the issue during a press conference with visiting EU diplomat Josep Borrell, “China condemns all acts that harm civilians and opposes any violation of international law,” Wang said.

He added, “Israel has the right to statehood, so does Palestine. The Israelis have obtained the safeguards for survival, but who will care about the survival of the Palestinians? The Jewish nation is no longer homeless in the world, but when will the Palestinian nation return to its home?”

On October 15, during phone calls with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Türkiye, respectively, Wang emphasized that Israel’s actions went beyond the scope of self-defense, and that the exercise of the right of self-defense should abide by international law and international humanitarian law. The top priority is an immediate ceasefire and an end to the war.

Since the Gaza-Israel conflict escalated on October 7, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has repeatedly stated that the question of Palestine needs to be resolved as soon as possible, and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state is the only way to solve the question. Only when the “two-state solution” is fully implemented in the Middle East can real peace be ushered in.

In fact, China’s position on the question of Palestine is consistent. China backs the establishment of an independent Palestinian state based on relevant United Nations documents and resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through peaceful negotiations. This position is also the basis for China’s response to the renewed conflict since October 7.

However, Israel emphasized that Gazan armed forces entered Israel and launched an attack on October 7, resulting in the death of hundreds of people, including civilians. Israel believes that its country suffered a terrorist attack, and China’s position toward Hamas should be tougher.

Obviously, Israel emphasizes the current outbreak of this specific conflict, while China emphasizes the fundamental path to resolve the question of Palestine. The two have different focuses.

Indeed, each escalation of the Gaza-Israel conflict in recent years has resulted in mixed perceptions among the international community. Israel, the United States, and European powers regard Hamas, which dominates the Gaza Strip, as a terrorist organization, and believe that Israel’s attack on Hamas also contains anti-terrorism elements. The outbreak of the current conflict cemented these perceptions, and these countries have sided with Israel even as its airstrikes on Gaza take a heavy civilian toll.

However, more countries in the world do not consider Hamas, which was born in the resistance to Israeli occupation, to be a terrorist organization. The same is true for China so far. These countries believe that the Gaza-Israel conflict is part of the broader Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and the violence on October 7 was fundamentally the result of the failure to properly resolve the question of Palestine. Some Arab countries, Iran, and Turkey blame Israel’s long-term occupation and hardline policies on Palestine for the current conflict. Since October 7, Palestinians have gained more support in the Middle East.

The end result of these differing views is that the international community is once again sharply divided over the current Gaza-Israel war. Even now, conflicts and even violence between different groups supporting Israel and Palestine are occurring in some universities in the United States.

Clearly, there are differing views within the international community regarding the current Gaza-Israel war. Under this circumstance, China’s position has received a lot of attention from Israel and the outside world.

First of all, it is understandable that as a victim of the surprise attack by Gazan armed forces on October 7, Israel certainly hopes that all countries will stand on its side. As a world power, China’s position naturally attracts more attention from Israel. And China’s stance on the October 7 attack – which Chinese officials have declined to call a terrorist attack – is obviously not welcomed by Israel.

More broadly, Israel has long been dissatisfied with China’s position on the question of Palestine and believes that China is pursuing a policy on this question that is unfavorable to Israel. In fact, the two-state solution to the question of Palestine is advocated by the United Nations and most countries in the world. Even Western powers like the United States and the United Kingdom support this. It is not advocated by China alone. However, because this solution requires Israel to return a large area of occupied land to the Palestinians, there are many people in Israel who oppose the two-state solution.

In recent years, China’s relations with the Middle East have continued to deepen, and its influence in the region has gradually increased. Therefore, many countries, especially those in the Middle East, attach great importance to China’s views on the Gaza-Israel conflict.

Finally, the United States and other world powers are more concerned about China’s position from the perspective of great power competition. China’s so-called challenge to the United States in the Middle East has been often mentioned in recent years. Great power competition is thus inevitably coloring perceptions after the outbreak of the Gaza-Israel conflict, which may have an important impact on the Middle East.

To a large extent, the widespread international attention to China’s attitude toward the Gaza-Israel conflict illustrates China’s influence in today’s world. China hopes to achieve peace in the Middle East and has been working hard to promote it. China’s ability to respond to international emergencies certainly needs to be improved, but China’s calls and efforts for peace will eventually be understood.

A peaceful Middle East will have greater strategic autonomy and pay more attention to development. Such a Middle East is more in line with China’s development and foreign cooperation needs, and is certainly more beneficial to the people of the Middle East.