Credit: Alejandro Luengo (Unsplash)

What does the war in Gaza mean for Israeli-Chinese relations?

By Paul-Matthieu Faure

Since the 7 October attacks, and the subsequent invasion of Gaza, Israeli-Chinese relations have begun to decline. The pressing question now is how have tensions escalated this far, and why is China getting involved in this conflict?

China, Israel’s second biggest trade partner, and a crucial importer of military technology in the 1990s, has turned its back on the state in a move to further their proxy conflict with the United States. This has been made especially apparent following the genocide case lodged against Israel by South Africa. Whilst China has not publicly commented, the foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning acknowledged the case, saying that China “opposes any action that violates the international law and urges parties to the conflict to earnestly implement relevant resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council and General Assembly”.

During the times of Maoist China, relations between the two states did not exist at all, with China choosing to support the Palestinian liberation organisation and publicly recognised a Palestinian state in 1988. However, as the Cold War ended and China opened up economically, the two states formally established relations in 1992. Thus, in the subsequent decades, China would not be entirely “Pro-Israel” or “Pro-Palestine”, but would rather aim to toe-the-line between the two. China could then enjoy the economic benefits that came from trading with Israel, especially as they backdoored Western arms to China. The could also keep Arab allies happy, with ambiguous statements about how “all sides” should avoid escalation and a two-state solution should be pursued.

Yet, since the election of Xi Jinping in 2012 and the escalation of tensions with the USA, Israeli-Chinese relations have suffered. The Chinese Communist Party has increasingly seen the conflict between Israel and Palestine as an opportunity to further their multipolar world vision against current American hegemony. This was obvious through their statements about the 2021 conflict in Gaza where they argued that “China upholds international fairness and justice” whilst the USA “only cares about its interests”.

So, this begs the question, how has the current war in Gaza affected Israeli-Chinese relations? In their efforts to counter American hegemony, China has largely positioned itself as a promoter of peace, hosting talks with the foreign ministers of four Arab states and releasing a five-point plan that calls for a ceasefire and the ramping up of humanitarian assistance. Furthermore, China has called on the UN Security Council to plan for the creation of a two-state solution and criticised Israel’s “collective punishment” of Palestinians. Crucially, China did not officially condemn the 7 October attacks, stating that Hamas was a “part of the Palestinian national fabric” and therefore wanted to carry on relations with them.

Israeli ambassador, Rafi Harpa’s, response was that Israel was ‘deeply disappointed’ with China’s position. Tuvia Gering, a researcher for the Institute for National Security Studies also stated that “instead of fulfilling the role of the great and responsible power that it claims to be, China is exploiting the conflict for geopolitical benefits”. In response to China’s efforts to call for a ceasefire at the UNSC, Israel proceeded to back a Human Rights Council resolution, criticising China’s treatment of the Uyghurs.

The war in Gaza has caused great damage to Israeli-Chinese relations that will have long-lasting repercussions. It appears China has decided that its desire for a multipolar world order and allies in the Middle East are more important than its relationship with Israel. Crucially for the West, China’s reaction to this conflict shows that their desire to oppose the USA and their allies is only getting stronger.


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