What do Israelis think of Chinese products?
Beijing fears instability in the Middle East
"You ask me about China's national interest in the Middle East conflict? I say: no unrest, no escalation in the region!" In an interview with DW, Li Guofu, Middle East expert at the Beijing government think tank "China Institute of International Studies" (CIIS), emphasizes that China absolutely needs a peaceful and stable world situation in order to develop further. "The unrest in the Middle East is not only affecting the normal life of the people there, it is also having a very negative impact on the stability of the entire world, thus damaging China's rise."
Beijing calls for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. The People's Republic, which is chairing the UN Security Council this month, has tried several times over the past few days, together with other states, to have a corresponding resolution passed. However, this failed due to resistance from the USA. Foreign Minister Wang Yi reiterated the need for dialogue with the goal of a two-state solution.
Free travel priority for oil tankers from the Gulf region
China's economic interests
The Middle East region plays an important role in China's economy and energy supply; it covers around half of its oil and gas requirements. Container ships that transport goods worth billions of euros between China and Europe have to cross the Suez Canal. "The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the region's core problem," said political scientist Li Guofu. "Until there is a complete, just and sustainable solution to this conflict, the unrest will not end. And that has negative effects on economic cooperation between China and many countries in the region."
In addition, Israel plays an important role in Beijing's global economic strategy. Both sides work closely together in research and technology. Israel is also involved in the expansion of China's so-called "New Silk Road": Chinese investors are involved in port expansion projects, as well as in a planned railway line between Eilat on the Red Sea and Ashdod south of Tel Aviv; however, this construction project is currently on hold.
According to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, Sino-Israeli trade increased by almost 19 percent to around 17.5 billion US dollars in 2020. During the same period, trade with the Palestinian territories reached a value of 100 million US dollars.
Gaza city residents after Israeli air strikes
Verbal support for Palestinians
Bao Hsiu-Ping, Middle East expert at Taiwan's National Chi Nan University, told DW that although China has officially been on the side of the Palestinians for decades, this support is essentially limited to the verbal level, Beijing has at most some small arms delivered. Because of an active campaign by the Israeli government in the Chinese media and universities, "at least part of the Chinese population is on the side of Israel" in the current conflict, Bao Hsiu-Ping observed from Taiwan.
At the press conference of the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Monday, a reporter from Qatar-based Al Jazeera asked why China had not clearly criticized Israel's military actions in Gaza. Spokesman Zhao Lijian replied, "Very few people believe that China is not clearly criticizing Israel." China condemns the violence against civilians, "Israel in particular should hold back and stop violence, intimidation and provocation."
Political scientist Bao does not expect a more active Chinese role in the Middle East conflict. "China's interests there are focused on a functioning economic relationship. Above all, oil deliveries and shipping routes should not be interrupted. Otherwise, China will officially adhere to its principle of non-interference."
Foreign Office spokesman Zhao Lijian: "China stands up for justice and fairness"
Chinese image maintenance
Beijing claims to take a values-based position unlike the US. By resisting a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, Washington has "isolated itself in an unprecedented manner in the Security Council and opposed the conscience and morality of mankind," said spokesman Zhao Lijian, according to the official English version on the Chinese website Foreign Ministry. It goes on to say: "China stands for fairness and justice in international affairs, while only its own national interests count for the US. The US position is dictated by the US's proximity to the parties involved."
Beijing political scientist Li Guofu believes that Washington's position in the current escalation of the Middle East conflict could jeopardize its goal of regaining an international leadership position. In particular, a rift is opening up with the EU, where the killing of large numbers of Palestinian civilians is not accepted. This is advantageous for China, explains Li Guofu: "As long as Beijing continues to campaign for the fundamental rights of the Palestinians at the international level, China's image will be improved, while America's will be damaged."
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