China and the Israel-Palestine Conflict: Enter the Dragon?

This video report on China’s new interest in Middle East diplomacy begins by pointing out that the Obama administration has announced a pivot toward Asia (i.e. US interests lie more in the Pacific Rim than the Middle East.). At the same time, China (which dislikes this pivot, fearing it is aimed against Beijing) is moving into Middle East diplomacy. The young, cosmopolitan new president, Xi Jinping, is separately hosting Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas.

The USG Open Source Center translates commentary from the Chinese Communist Party’s ‘People’s Daily’, making clear that the Chinese Communist Party is increasingly interested in playing the role of a Great Power in world affairs. This step is a change from the policy of ‘harmonious development, which implied avoidance of such entanglements while. concentrating on growing the economy.

Zhong Sheng Article on China’s More Active Role in Palestine-Israel Peace Talks
Zhong Sheng: “The Positive Energy of Peace in the Middle East”
Renmin Ribao Online
Monday, May 6, 2013
Document Type: OSC Translated Text

With the development and growth of the comprehensive national strength, China will participate in the international affairs and strive to play well its constructive role in an even more active way.

President Abbas of Palestine begins his state visit to China from 5 May. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will also begin his official visit to China from 6 May. China maintains friendly exchanges with both Palestine and Israel, always supports the Middle East peace process, and supports Palestine and Israel to resolve differences and disputes through peace talks. The Chinese side’s invitation of the visits of the two countries’ leaders is also a part of the aforementioned efforts.

BOTh Palestine and Israel have expectations for the “China role” on the Middle East issue. The international community also pays high attention to it. Such attention includes concerns on Palestine-Israel relations and on the situation in the Middle East, which also realizes the strong hope for observing and grasping the direction of China’s diplomacy.

Turmoil in west Asia and in North Africa and the war in Syria bring about new political ecology in the Middle East. The Palestine-Israel issue, however, has not faded from the “eye of the storm” and whose acute nature and impact have not diminished in the least. Serious lack of security and trust lead to the serious confrontation over position between the two sides over border, security, return of refugees, distribution of water resource, final status of Jerusalem, and over other issues. King Abdullah II of Jordan stated frankly: Now is the “final moment” to resolve the Palestine-Israel issue. If there is no action and no breakthrough “all will be finished four years later.”

On the eve of the visits of Palestine’s and Israel’s leaders to China, some individuals suddenly indulged in fantasy and stated as follows: China wants to secure its own “foothold” in the Middle East, and tries to erode the influence of a certain big power in that region.

The international arena is not the sole preserve of any one. Pushing for the resolution of the hot-button issues is the common responsibility of all. Turf war and scrambling for interests are totally unrelated. The parties concerned know best in their heart where the source of the aforementioned view lies.

The positive move made by China on the Palestine-Israel issue is a natural extension of its independent foreign policy of peace. China does not want to take over the roles of other major powers and of international organizations like the United Nations; it also has not the intention to act like an “umpire.” China supports all proposals that help to promote peace talks between Palestine and Israel, and will, as always, contribute its efforts to promote achieving real results in peace talks.

As a responsible power, China defends the purpose and principle of the “UN Charter,” stresses fairness and justice, helps maintain obligations and norms in international relations, and strenuously promote the resolution of differences and disputes through peace talks. This is also China’s basic position on the Middle East issue.

One of the major reasons that many regional hot-button issues are not resolved at an early date lies in the failure to fully abide by the aforementioned principles. The line of thinking for resolving problems will open even wider, the opportunities for restarting peace talks will be even more, and the possibility of achieving a breakthrough will increase if we tilt a bit more to the side of these principles.

Persisting in these principles means building and mending the platform for peace. The purpose of China’s diplomacy is to build more and mend more platforms, and help create more opportunities for resolving problems and for realizing peace. China is strongly convinced that no matter how complicated various hot-button issues are, as long as one can grasp the major direction, various conflicting parties will be moved to advance in the same direction and a peaceful resolution plan can finally be found.

Peace is like air and sunshine. You are not aware of them when you are benefitted from them. But when you lose them, you can hardly survive. If there is no peace, we cannot talk about development. The Chinese people have deep-seated memory of the distress brought about by wars and turmoil, and pursue peace tirelessly. Such a memory and pursuit is the special nature of the Chinese culture, and the spiritual temperament of the Chinese diplomacy.

Develop oneself through striving for a peaceful international environment and maintain and promote world peace through one’s own development are complementary and are inseparable. With the development and growth of the comprehensive national strength, China will take part in the international affairs in an even more active way, strive to play well its constructive role, and inject a strong positive energy to promote an early resolution of the Palestine-Israel issue and of other international and regional hot-button issues.

(Description of Source: Beijing Renmin Ribao Online in Chinese — Online version of the daily newspaper (People’s Daily) of the CPC Central Committee. URL: http://paper.people.com.cn)

12 Responses

  1. This seems to be a rare outbreak of actual good news, China essentially pledging itself to a future of peace.

    Of course they are not saying they wouldn’t defend themselves if threatened, yet let’s focus on the positive. They are making a very solid point in reference to the UN Charter. Their formulation of the UN Charter is of course subjective, yet also hopeful and more Jeffersonian than Marxist, Leninist or Maoist: (the UN charter) “stresses fairness and justice, helps maintain obligations and norms in international relations, and strenuously promote the resolution of differences and disputes through peace talks. This is also China’s basic position on the Middle East issue.”

    If only there was another Great Power with the wisdom to understand that it’s commitment to eternal global Empire (in contradiction to it’s own culture, alleged principles, and Constitution) was an unsustainable weakness rather than a strength, that could see and take the Chinese statement as an opening for a similar (diplomatic, no legal force) pledge that could begin a dialogue on transitioning away from the policy of eternal global empire.

  2. China will act like a responsible great power, particularly with regard to non-interference, when it sees it in its interest to do so, and the further from its geographic neighborhood the issue. While China may support an Israeli-Palestinian peace process, I do not see China engaging the issue as a “broker.” China simply does not have the background or trust in the region. On the issue of trust, neither the US nor Russia has it much on either side, but China has even less so.

    China’s diplomatic legacy worldwide is based on acquisition of a flow of resources, and the Chinese are very deft at playing the “non-interference” card to do so. They will deal with any country or government, regardless how odious, in order to advance their interests. Note China’s close relations with Myanmar (Burma) long predating Myanmar’s opening and release of Aun San Suu Kyi. And the history of China’s relations with several African countries demonstrate the ease with which the Chinese deal with authoritarian governments. And why shouldn’t they? China is itself authoritarian.

    Closer to home, China continues to be North Korea’s sole supporter, refusing to punish North Korea’s outrageous behavior and threats toward South Korea, Japan, and the United States. The Chinese fear the collapse of the North Korean regime and the consequent refugee problem, not to mention a US ally, a unified Korea under Seoul, on its border. In order to stave off that collapse, however, China has no problem supporting probably the most odious regime in the world. China has demonstrated an assertive and, at times, aggressive stance regarding its claim to practically all of the South China Sea (the nine-dotted line). And it has backed that claim with clashes against japan and the Philippines.

    In sum, China will always act in what it perceives as its own best interest. Most great powers throughout history, including those today, do likewise. the difference is, there are times when self-interest includes attempting to rectify a political and humanitarian disaster, such as the US did in intervening in Bosnia to stop the slaughter of Bosnian muslims, and in intervening and waging war against Serbia to stop the killing and ethnic cleansing against Kosovar Muslims. In both cases, the US gained nothing that would normally be considered in its national interest. Do not expect the Chinese to do likewise.

  3. I would suggest that China’s interests in the regional affairs stem from their commitment to a secure Iran in terms of what the Iranian oil and gas fields can provide. As China grows economically, this becomes an existential issue, requiring hydrocarbons to fuel their growth (or demise, as we’ve seen in the Peking pollution)(and the rumours of a shift of the capital to a new location therefore*). China, as we should know, thinks in ages, not mere generations.

    To have the oil-producing region become engulfed in flames means for them to have to participate in an even greater role as combatant, something the Chinese could probably do but would choose not to for any number of reasons, among them recollections of what the last World war and its aftermath was like for them. Calling the leaders of the long-standing conflict in Palestine to talks over the past few days signals – perhaps, guessing only at the substance of the talks – a sort of “come to Confucius” meeting so that the ‘flint’ and ‘steel’ can be kept separate lest they spark war and corresponding conflagration.

    Putting Iran at the centre of any attacks or wars at this time imperils imperial China’s goals. At certain points, the Chinese will determine if they need to act militarily to defend their investments and de facto territories within the borders of Iran.**/*** The comparatively minuscule issues at the source of ignition are much more easily resolved through prevention than having to act after the firestorm has erupted.

    * link to businessinsider.com
    ** link to en.wikipedia.org
    *** link to ireport.cnn.com

  4. While the US Congress is busy kissing Natanyahu’s ass and Obama is rubber stamping and implementing Israel’s geopolitical strategy, Iran is filling the vacuum in its commercial trade, restricted with the West because of Israeli determination to remain the Middle East’s hegemon, by turning Eastward to China; and because there has been no resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict due to US oversight, again, China is poised to take over where the US has been totally impotent.

    The mutual embrace of Israel and the US is contributing to the decline in US influence in the world and a hastening of the shift of the world’s center gravity from West to East.

  5. It rather sounds like the Chinese are trying to step into the “honest broker” role the U.S. had assumed and failed at for so many years.

    The rhetoric is high-sounding and the sentiments noble, but so long as they are trying to achieve some sort of diplomatic balance and Mr. Nice Guy approach — they will do nothing to move Israel off any of their entrenched policies.

    To do that China would have to render serious economic and material aid to the Palestinians and choose sides in this stalemate with substantive policies and consequences.

    But that is not in their nature, so don’t expect much to change. This is a Paper Dragon indeed.

      • Thank’s for the link Mark. Here’s a quote from it:

        Sino-Israeli Ties

        “China today places a high-premium on its relationship with Israel, a marked shift from the periods of hostility and suspicion that characterized Sino-Israeli ties during the Cold War. Israel also sees China as an important partner, especially in the economic arena: China is Israel’s largest trading partner in Asia and the volume of trade between China and Israel represents the sixth largest in the world (Xinhua News Agency, November 8, 2006). China’s vocal criticism of Israel with respect to the question of Palestine, the most recent criticism occurring during the latest conflict in Gaza, appears to have done little to scuttle one of the world’s most robust trading relationships, and there are no indications that China (or Israel) is interested in seeing this dynamic change.”

        Need I (we?) say more?

  6. The credibility of the West has been damaged for hundred of years to come in the Middle East, thanks to the greed and the will to power of the US and their western allies that are dictated by self-interested individuals who want to monopolize the world. It needs a strong arbiter that do not represent West’s interests if Israel and Palestine have to come to an armistice.
    On the other hand, Israel have great experience in making strong allies at long distance from home, when they want to exploit their close neighbors. I’d keep a close eye on their relations with China.

  7. This is by all means a good news for those who are believers of the “Balance of Power” and rejected the unipolarity which has been hunting the political world since the late 80s.
    A welcome change indeed.

  8. A great post, but did you have to throw in the “dragon” part? Come on, man!

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