by Omar Ahmed (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 53, No. 9, Rabi' al-Thani, 1445)
The Hamas-led Al-Aqsa Storm resistance operation was launched deep inside historic Palestine against the occupation forces and zionist squatters (aka settlers) on October 7. Rulers of several western regimes rushed to condemn the daring operation. It was the first attack against the occupation state in its 75-year history.
At least 44 countries, including the typical US-led Atlanticist bloc, as well as BRICS founding members Brazil and India, condemned the Palestinian resistance and expressed support for Israel. Russia and China, on the other hand, condemned all forms of violence, while South Africa condemned Israel’s actions. Pretoria also called on the International Criminal Court to issue arrest warrants against Israeli rulers and their backers for war crimes.
Of the Muslim-majority countries who issued statements, those adamantly opposed to normalization, either condemned Israel or voiced support for the resistance, while the ones that had already entered normalization agreements condemned all violence, with particular blame on the zionist entity.
It was, however, Beijing’s stance on the issue that caught the attention of many western media outlets. The statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs a day after the launch of Al-Aqsa Storm, contained cliché sound bites. It said Beijing was “deeply concerned over the current escalation of tensions and violence between Palestine and Israel.”
It reiterated the flawed notion that “the fundamental way out of the conflict lies in implementing the two-state solution.” The important point was that China did not explicitly condemn Hamas, unlike western regimes.
Israel expected to see a “stronger condemnation” of Hamas from China, according to Yuval Waks, a senior official at the Israeli embassy in Beijing. “When people are being murdered, slaughtered in the streets, this is not the time to call for a two-state solution,” Waks told reporters.
Unsurprisingly, some have attributed this lack of “sympathy” for the Israelis as being down to rising anti-Semitism in China, especially online. Galia Lavi, deputy director of the Diane & Guilford Glazer Israel-China Policy Center in Israel suggested the failure of authorities to respond to anti-Semitic messages online acts like tacit endorsement. “The lack of condemnation of Hamas by Chinese officials gives it support,” she said.
While the Senior Fellow at the Washington-based think-tank the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), Craig Singleton believes that “China and Russia are exploiting the Israel-Hamas conflict, not out of genuine concern but self-interest, namely to deepen their regional influence and undercut US leadership. This strategy may yield long-term diplomatic dividends, although it will absolutely come at the cost of their relations with Israel.”
It appears that this is a price Beijing is willing to pay. The tide is clearly turning toward a multipolar order. Power is shifting eastwards as Eurasian powers China and Russia fill in the growing political void in West Asia, especially in the realms of trade, security and diplomacy. Any perception that China is not seen as a peace broker by the west is, therefore, perhaps irrelevant given that many of the lingering conflicts and disputes in the Global South in the modern era are the direct legacy of western imperialism.
It is clear that China is not willing to buckle to pressure from so-called “international community” (which is essentially the western world in mainstream media terms), and has chosen to adhere to its decades-long principled stance in supporting the Palestinian cause, despite maintaining important trade ties with Israel.
The occupation state’s chief backer and financier, the US is receding in relevance and influence in West Asia. China, on the other hand, is busy forging stronger ties with key regional geopolitical players, notably Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Both countries have been invited to join BRICS+ while the former is a fully-fledged member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Saudi Arabia aspires to join this important economic bloc too.
Last year China signed billions of dollars’ worth of trade agreements with Arab countries during the Saudi-hosted 10th Arab-China Business Conference. It further enhanced these relations during the historic China-Arab summit in Riyadh as “the largest and highest-level diplomatic action between China and Arab countries.”
It is worth noting that China imports approximately 50 per cent of its oil from the Persian Gulf, mostly from Saudi Arabia and increasingly from Iran. Beijing was also responsible for brokering a historic reconciliation agreement between the two regional rivals in March and is setting its sights on other mediation roles, such as in the Saudi-led war on Yemen and potentially extending to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
In fact, such a gesture is welcomed by most Palestinians, 80 percent according to polls conducted earlier this year. Palestinian respondents viewed China as a trusted broker, with the US seen as least favorable.
Crucially, while on a visit to Doha to work on a ceasefire agreement alongside Russia, Beijing’s Middle East envoy Zhai Jun in a statement on October 19 said: “The fundamental reason for the current situation of the Palestine-Israel conflict is that the Palestinian people’s lawful national rights have not been guaranteed.”
“China and Russia have the same position on the Palestinian question, and China is ready to maintain communication and coordination with Russia to promote de-escalation of the situation, and play a positive role in resuming talks for peace between Palestine and Israel,” he added.
That same day, following a meeting with Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly, who Reuters reported was the only senior delegate from the region to attend China’s Belt and Road Forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping, as part of his first public address on the conflict reiterated the centrality of “an independent state of Palestine” as a “fundamental way out of” the crisis.
Many seasoned observers acknowledge the terminal status of the two-state solution. In the face of an actual genocidal onslaught against the people of besieged Gaza and the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the occupied West Bank, the imperative for Palestinian national liberation becomes increasingly urgent.
The Iranian-led Axis of Resistance recognizes that achieving this national liberation, which in a way bears similarities to the establishment of the colonial-settler zionist state, necessitates armed struggle.
While this approach might not align with the preferences of the Chinese government, it enjoys widespread support among the people of Palestine and the broader region. China, a civilization-state seeking to strengthen its relations with Muslim-majority West Asia, will find itself at a crossroads.
It must decide whether to appease the US, which is shifting its focus towards Beijing’s backyard in the Asia-Pacific. All the while, Washington echoes the hollow promise of a two-state solution, even as Israel pursues a genocidal policy and potentially, a second Nakba.
Alternatively, China can do what it has always done: act in its own self-interests. By aligning with the regional powerhouse and economic partner, Iran, while balancing ties with key trade partner Saudi Arabia, this can potentially reshape China’s role in West Asia. This will be to the detriment of the occupation state and its committed supporter, the US.