Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made a historic journey to the land of the Red Dragon earlier this week, as he became the first Arab leader to grace Beijing with his presence in 2023. This monumental visit casts a spotlight on China burgeoning involvement in the Middle East, as it seeks to bolster its diplomatic presence in a region traditionally under the aegis of the United States.
Setting the stage: the genesis of the visit
Abbas’ three-day sojourn in China seems to have been orchestrated as a strategic manoeuvre by the Chinese government to augment its diplomatic cachet in the Middle East. This is set against the backdrop of Beijing’s earlier successful mediation between the perennial rivals, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Additionally, China proffered its diplomatic acumen to broker peace between the Palestinians and Israelis. It also offers an implicit signal to the Biden administration regarding Palestinian dissatisfaction with the perceived lacklustre American efforts to advance the two-state solution.
A glimpse into Abbas-Xi dialogue
During this summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping extended his unwavering support to Palestine’s aspirations for full membership in the United Nations, as per a statement released by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. Additionally, Xi asserted China’s commitment to champion the Palestinian cause in multilateral forums.
Not stopping there, the Chinese leader voiced his support for an international peace conference to foster conditions conducive to the resumption of peace talks between Israel and Palestine. Xi Jinping also communicated China’s readiness to play a significant role in reconciliation endeavours between Fatah and Hamas and expressed a keen interest in establishing a strategic partnership with the Palestinian Authority.
On the other hand, Abbas reciprocated by reaffirming Palestine’s unwavering adherence to the One China principle, and vowed to actively partake in the Belt and Road Initiative. Furthermore, Abbas committed to enhancing collaboration with China across diverse arenas, as reported by the Palestinian official news agency WAFA.
A calculated gesture by China
Assaf Orion, a connoisseur on China from the Israeli Institute for National Security Studies, shared insights on China’s nuanced diplomatic engagements. He posited that China’s public and diplomatic patronage of the Palestinians serves as a sophisticated PR campaign amongst Arab and Muslim constituencies. It is a cost-effective strategy for China, as it seeks to carve out an independent policy in the region while advancing its global initiatives, seemingly at the expense of the US.
The Broader Implications
This visit marks a pivotal moment in Sino-Palestinian relations. China is steadily positioning itself as an influential player in the Middle East, filling the vacuum left by a seemingly reticent United States. The Chinese juggernaut continues to make inroads, potentially reshaping the geopolitical landscape of the region. With the Middle East’s political kaleidoscope constantly in flux, the role that China will assume in the region remains to be seen.
Image Credit: Jade Gao/Pool on REUTERS