BEIJING — China supports the “just cause of the Palestinian people in safeguarding their national rights”, Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Iranian counterpart on Sunday (Oct 15) as Beijing takes an increasingly clear stance on the Israel-Gaza conflict.
Israeli forces have staged thousands of air raids in the Gaza Strip in recent days, claiming more than 2,300 lives in the densely populated territory after Hamas fighters broke through the heavily fortified border with Israel on Oct 7, killing more than 1,300 people.
China, which has close ties with Iran, has increasingly positioned itself as a mediator in the Middle East, but has been criticised by Western officials for not specifically naming Hamas in its condemnations of violence in the Israel-Gaza conflict.
“The root cause… of the Palestine-Israel situation is that the Palestinian people’s right to statehood has been set aside for a long time,” Mr Wang said in a call with Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on Sunday, according to an official Chinese readout.
“This historical injustice should end as soon as possible,” Mr Wang said, adding that “China will continue to stand on the side of peace and support the just cause of the Palestinian people in safeguarding their national rights”.
More than one million people in the northern part of the crowded enclave of Gaza have been ordered to flee ahead of an expected major ground offensive by Israel, an exodus that aid groups said would cause a humanitarian disaster.
The cramped and impoverished Gaza Strip, where 2.3 million residents live on top of each other, has been under a land, air and sea blockade by Israel since 2006.
Most of those killed on both sides are civilians.
Mr Wang said in a call on Sunday with Saudi Arabia’s Prince Faisal bin Farhan that Israel’s actions were now “beyond the scope of self-defence” and the Israeli government must “cease its collective punishment of the people of Gaza”.
“(Israel) should listen earnestly to the calls of the international community and the UN secretary general, and cease its collective punishment of the people of Gaza,” Mr Wang added in a change from Beijing’s earlier ambiguous statements on the conflict.
Mr Wang told Prince Faisal that “all parties should not take any action to escalate the situation and should return to the negotiating table as soon as possible”.
On Saturday, Mr Wang held a call with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who had called on China to use its influence in the Middle East to push for calm in the region.
Mr Wang urged “the convening of an international peace meeting as soon as possible to promote the reaching of broad consensus”, according to Beijing’s readout of the conversation.
Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a senior research fellow at the Asia Centre in Paris, said Beijing was “more influential (in the Middle East) than ten years or twenty years ago mainly because of its economic footprint there but also its diplomatic activism”.
But “its good relations with Israel, especially in the technological sector, limits Beijing’s room for manoeuvre”, he told AFP.
CHINESE ENVOY VISIT
China’s official statements on the conflict have not specifically named Hamas in their condemnations of violence, leading to criticism from some Western officials who said they were too weak.
The country’s state broadcaster CCTV said on Sunday that China’s special envoy Zhai Jun will visit the Middle East next week to push for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict and promote peace talks.
Mr Zhai “will visit the Middle East next week to coordinate with various parties for a ceasefire, to protect civilians, ease the situation, and promote peace talks”, CCTV said in a video posted to its official social media account on Sunday.
Mr Zhai said in an interview with CCTV that “the prospect of further broadening and outward spillover (of the conflict) is deeply worrying”, according to the broadcaster.
Mr Zhai met on Friday with the Arab League’s representatives in China and said Beijing supported the regional group “in playing an important role on the Palestine issue”, according to a foreign ministry statement.
He told the bloc that Beijing would “make unremitting efforts to get the Middle East peace process back on track”, the statement added. AFP