China’s efforts to pressure Israel to stop the war in Gaza

China has developed a vision for establishing a “new world order with Chinese leadership,” while criticizing what it sees as failures on the part of the United States.

Since Chinese President Xi Jinping came to power in China and officially announced the launch of the “Chinese Belt and Road Initiative” in 2013, China has developed a vision for establishing a “new world order with Chinese leadership,” while criticizing what it sees as failures on the part of the United States. The United States of America in its leadership or “dominance” of the current world order, with its blatant bias towards Israel in the face of the legitimate rights of the Palestinians to establish their just state. Hence, China and Russia showed coordination in their positions regarding the crisis of military confrontation between Israel and the Hamas movement in Gaza after the “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation in October 2023. China also proposed a future solution in Gaza, based on (granting the Palestinian Authority the central role in managing the affairs of the Strip with the support of Arab powers, but it may prefer that this be done through a broad regional consensus). China also called for holding (a global peace conference under international supervision)  Which may distance Washington from playing the role of the “sole mediator” in the Palestinian issue for many years.  This can be considered a “turning point” and the beginning of a new phase in China’s policies in the region.  The Chinese and Russian positions calling for a ceasefire in Gaza represent an international weight for the countries of the region that can be relied upon to find a solution to the current crisis.

   The importance of the countries of the Middle East, represented by the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the League of Arab States, is increasing as influential parties in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which constitutes the cornerstone of China’s foreign and economic policy.  These countries play an essential role in the success of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s vision for global governance, stipulated in his global initiatives, known as (the Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative, the Global Civilization Initiative, and Building a Community with a Shared Future for Mankind).

  China believes that standing alongside the Palestinians resonates in Arab countries, in countries with a Muslim majority, and in large parts of the countries of what is known as the “Global South or South-South countries”, according to the Chinese expression. Hence, the reception by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in the Chinese capital, Beijing, of a delegation of ministers from member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the League of Arab States.  With the decision of this same delegation, after its visit to China, to pay a similar visit to the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council. The goal of Beijing’s guests, representatives of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the League of Arab States, is to “pressure the West to demand that it reject Israel’s claims that it is doing what it is doing within the framework of the right to self-defense”. As the representative of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia said, it has become necessary to immediately stop military operations in Gaza. Here came Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry’s confirmation to his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, that he expects China to be more active in supporting the Palestinians during the coming period.  Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also discussed with American officials at the beginning of the spark of Operation “Al-Aqsa Flood” in October 2023, all the dimensions of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, amid China’s fears of the expansion of the circle of this conflict, which may lead to a broader regional war.  Chinese Minister “Wang Yi” also spoke to his counterparts in Israel and the Palestinian territories, after China’s special envoy to the Middle East Zhai Jun arrived in the region to meet with Arab leaders to resolve the raging conflict between Hamas and the Israeli side after Operation Al-Aqsa Flood and the Israeli response to it by the “Operation of the Iron Swords”.

  At the internal level in China itself, criticism of Israel escalated after its war in the Gaza Strip and its targeting of civilians, and a wave of anti-Semitism escalated, according to Israeli accusations against the Chinese, via the Internet, fueled by nationalist Chinese bloggers. Some on Chinese social media platforms equated Israel’s actions with Nazi crimes during the era of Hitler, accusing the Israelis of carrying out genocide against the Palestinians, which sparked disapproval from the German embassy in Beijing. Then came the stabbing of a family member of an Israeli embassy employee in Beijing, adding more complexity to the situation.

  As the Israeli siege on Gaza continues for a long time, there have been many Arab means of pressure on Israel to stop the war in Gaza, with the help of China. At the same time, Saudi Arabia refused to use oil as a means of pressure to stop the war, because it would not have an international impact and would reduce international tension if it raised the international price of oil above its usual price.  With the continued Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip, the Arab countries continue to put pressure on the international community and the active international forces to stop the war on Gaza, bring aid into the Strip on an ongoing basis and protect civilians, and the Arab-Chinese emphasis on the necessity of continuing coordination together, to speak with one voice with the international community about  Dangerous developments inside the Gaza Strip. All Arab countries, led by Egypt, worked with China to continue supporting international organizations working in the sector, especially the Palestinian Refugee Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), stressing that a military or security solution will not succeed in ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Rather, the only way is to solve the conflict.  Politically, to achieve just and comprehensive peace based on the two-state solution.  Simultaneously with the declaration of complete rejection of the Israeli attempts to separate the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as a true extension of the one Palestinian state. There were many means of Arab-Chinese-Islamic pressure on Israel to stop the war in Gaza, such as escalating the intensity of Arab, Islamic, Chinese, and Russian criticism in confronting Tel Aviv and its practices against civilians in Gaza militarily, and then all of them trying to resort to both China and Russia to exert international pressure and in the UN Security Council in facing Israel.

 The Organization of Islamic Cooperation and representatives of the Arab League also resorted to China, due to its great economic interests in the Middle East region, as the largest importer of oil, and to promote its investments. For this reason, China is trying to reach a peaceful ceasefire settlement regarding Gaza, especially since this military conflict harms China and its interests in the heart of the Middle East and the region.  This also has a political aspect, represented by the fact that China considers itself the “leader of the global South” or what is known as the South-South, that is, developing countries, as they have become accustomed to promoting in the recent period. In addition to the arbitrariness of the United States of America in support of Israel, despite its claim to leadership of the free world, it stands by Israel and its practices in the face of defenseless civilians in the Gaza Strip, which led the Arab and Islamic countries with it to resort to China and Russia together as natural competitors to the United States of America. The interests of the two powers are conflicting.  Since the 1950s, China has always called itself (an ally of the Arab peoples fighting the new colonialists). The current path pursued by Beijing constitutes, in essence, a continuation of that traditional policy.  Although China also maintains normal relations with Israel, the weight of Arab countries is much greater in the eyes of Beijing than Israel.

  China and Russia also encouraged all Arab and Islamic countries to escalate their criticism of Israel, as other countries recalled their ambassadors or cut diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv.  Even the United States of America, which voted against the ceasefire resolution, softened its position, as President Joe Biden called for a “temporary cessation” of the fighting in Gaza.  Here we must understand well that Israel and those who support it will not risk much by prolonging the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip, for fear of the Arab countries, especially the Gulf, using gas and oil as a pressure card in a way that affects it and the countries supporting it, especially in light of what happened at the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis. Oil, which has had a significant impact on America and Europe in this aspect, and therefore what will happen will be a major recession that will negatively affect global oil prices, in addition to their negative rise for these countries that support Israel.

  Here, the official Saudi and Gulf viewpoint in general is (the principle of not politicizing the oil commodity) in order to use it politically to put pressure on Israel and the United States of America.  The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has previously rejected demands to side with the American side in the current Ukrainian crisis, as the Saudi government is trying to demonstrate its role in stabilizing global oil prices and its production rates. Saudi Arabia also views OPEC with a technical and future outlook so that it will have a positive impact on the member states and not affect them completely negative. On the other hand, this card related to Saudi Arabia’s use of oil weapons may be on the table if Israeli stubbornness continues, but Saudi Arabia and the Gulf and Arab countries are currently seeking to resolve this conflict through peaceful means, and they know that using this card may not only harm Israel and the countries supporting it, but it will also negatively affect other countries such as China and others.  Saudi Arabia, which has been holding talks for several months with Israel with clear American and Western support about a possible normalization agreement but is not part of the Abraham Accords, called for an immediate end to the violence, although it did not explicitly condemn Hamas.

  As for the most prominent Arab means of pressure on Israel – mainly with Chinese encouragement – since the start of the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip, we find that all Arab, Islamic and Gulf countries voted in favor of the United Nations resolution calling for a ceasefire, and many of them strongly condemned the Israeli military operation. The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which normalized relations with Israel through the Abraham Accords, initially condemned the Hamas attacks.  But Bahrain withdrew its ambassador from Israel some time ago, and the Israeli ambassador in the Bahraini capital, Manama, left for Tel Aviv as an unwanted person by the Bahraini government and its people. Jordan also summoned its ambassador to Israel, accusing it of causing an unprecedented humanitarian disaster. On October 26, 2013, the Foreign Ministers of the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt, and Morocco condemned the constant Israeli targeting of civilians and the accompanying violations of international law in the Gaza Strip.  They issued their joint statement that the right to self-defense does not justify breaking the law and neglecting the rights of Palestinians.

  We find here that China was one of the strongest supporters in the recent United Nations meetings after the “Al-Aqsa Flood” operation in Gaza for the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.  China’s first statement regarding the conflict between Hamas and Israel angered the Israeli side, with Tel Aviv expressing its sense of “deep frustration” at China’s failure to condemn Hamas, and China’s failure to acknowledge Israel’s right to defend itself. Here, all parties hope that China will benefit from its close relations with Iran, which supports Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, in order to alleviate the situation.  Noting the pressure of a number of American politicians and officials on Chinese Minister “Wang Yi” to “urge the Iranians to calm down” in the face of Israel.

Dr.Nadia Helmy
Dr.Nadia Helmy
Associate Professor of Political Science, Faculty of Politics and Economics / Beni Suef University- Egypt. An Expert in Chinese Politics, Sino-Israeli relationships, and Asian affairs- Visiting Senior Researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES)/ Lund University, Sweden- Director of the South and East Asia Studies Unit