China’s Ascendance: Challenging U.S. Influence In The Middle East

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China's Ascendance: Challenging U.S. Influence In The Middle East

Israel has been requested by the International Court of Justice to take action to stop any conduct in Gaza that might be considered genocide. China backed the UN court’s non-binding interim decision in the South African case. Israel has denied the accusations made by the latter. More than 26,000 Palestinians and at least 1,200 Israelis have died in the conflict, which began with Hamas strikes on Israel more than three months ago. Over 130 hostages are being held in Gaza, and the majority of Gazans have been internally displaced.

Economic Expansion

According to analysts, Beijing’s geopolitical and economic objectives align with China’s challenge to US dominance in the Middle East, as seen by its remarks and diplomatic missions there. Galia Lavi, an Israeli specialist on China at the Institute for National Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, stated, “China has taken a pro-Palestine, anti-Israel stance.” In its “position paper” on the war, released late last year, China reaffirmed its support for the two-state solution and demanded a cease-fire and the release of hostages, all without mentioning Hamas. China’s perception of the Arab world and the war is incorrect. Arab nations have denounced Hamas by either adopting its name or denouncing its deeds, according to Lavi. According to China’s “Arab policy paper” from 2016, the nation is in favor of the creation of an independent, fully sovereign state of Palestine based on its pre-1967 boundaries, with East Jerusalem serving as its capital.

Diplomatic Maneuvering

China has always been pro-Palestinian, said Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian Ambassador to Denmark, adding that as China grows in strength, its influence in geopolitics would inevitably increase. China and Russia are said to be challenging the US, Israel’s principal supporter, at the UN Security Council, where the three’s vetoes prevented the passage of many resolutions pertaining to war. 

The UN Security Council is asked in the Chinese statement of 2023 to demand a cease-fire, oppose the “forced transfer” and displacement of Palestinians, free the hostages, get ready for the international community to back Gaza’s reconstruction after the war, establish diplomatic mediation, and “support the good offices of the UN secretary-general”. China talks a lot about the conflict, but only provides $4 million in humanitarian help to Gaza. By contrast, the US has committed $100 million, and Japan has offered $65 million,” Lavi stated.

Military and Security Cooperation

As a result of getting Saudi Arabia and Iran to communicate, China has goodwill in the Middle East, according to Hemant Adlakha, associate professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Center for Chinese and South East Asian Studies in New Delhi. The first trilateral meeting was held in Beijing in December of last year, and China mediated the peace agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran in March. Adlakha stated at a recent conference of the Institute of Chinese Studies, a think-tank located in Delhi, that “China has exploited the ‘anti-US, anti-Israel’ sentiment to present itself as the spokesperson for the Palestinian cause in the global south.” “The war has provided China an opportunity to end its isolation of the Covid years,” he stated. 

As part of its “zero-Covid” strategy, China implemented travel and visa restrictions from 2020 to 2023. Soon after the Israel-Hamas war broke out, Zhai Jun, the Chinese envoy to the Middle East, paid a visit to the area. Subsequently, the Foreign Ministry of China declared that the Arab League, with 22 members, was prepared to “maintain close communication with China to make concerted efforts to end the conflict”. China issued a statement along with the Secretariat General of the Arab League in Cairo during Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit to Egypt in January, expressing concern over the Red Sea situation. 

She said that the fight is drawing US attention away from the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea and that China has not done enough to persuade Iran, its partner, to stop the Houthi militia’s attacks on Red Sea ships. This week, three US soldiers in Jordan were killed in a drone strike that the US claims was carried out by another group with Iranian support.

Wrap Up

During Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s January visit to Egypt, China and the Secretariat General of the Arab League released a statement expressing concern about the Red Sea situation. Four nations abstained from a UN vote denouncing the Houthi strikes, including China and Russia. According to a January commentary by the Washington-based think-tank Brookings, China “will not pass up the opportunity to use the current and future crises to discredit the US while amplifying its alignment with its non-Western friends,” but it “is likely to remain a nominal power broker in the Middle East by choice for the foreseeable future.”

Research Staff

Research Staff

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