By: Aqib Rehman, Research Analyst, GSDN
Since the takeover of Xi Jinping in 2012, China has increasingly asserted itself at the international structure. Some scholars are of the view that China seeks to restructure the international system and its institutions which can cater to the rising aspirations of China.
In the recent times, particularly after Xi’s visit to West Asia in 2016, China has become an important player in this region. From brokering a deal between the Saudi Arabia and Iran to building a strategic partnership with Palestine, China is being perceived as a reliable power by the countries of this region.
So, in this piece, we will examine the China-Palestine relations in a historical perspective and will analyze the latest pact signed between the two nations.
The two nations of China and Palestine have a very complex history dating back to several decades. China became a liberated country in the year 1949 and Israel was formed in 1948. As was the case with most of the countries at that time, China also supported the Palestinian cause. It did not establish diplomatic relations with Israel. This position stemmed from its overall foreign policy ideology defined by anti-imperialism stand and as a champion of the independence of the third world countries.
In the 1950s and 1960s, China provided political support to the Palestinian people and recognized Yasir Arafat as the leader of PLO. It also provided some limited assistance to the Palestinian Liberation Organization. This limited support was in the form of limited military training, limited logistical support and ideological guidance.
China’s support for the PLO was primarily through diplomatic channels. It provided a platform for the PLO to voice its grievances and aspirations in international forums. China consistently condemned Israeli occupation and advocated for the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination.
During the decades of 1970s to 1990s, China sort to establish diplomatic relations with Palestine and formally recognized PLO as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” To further their relationship, both nations opened embassies in each other’s territories and exchange of ambassadors took place.
During these decades China occasionally attempted to facilitate dialogue and peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. It hosted talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials in the 1990s, demonstrating its willingness to contribute to the peace process. However, these mediation efforts did not lead to significant breakthroughs in resolving the conflict.
During the late 1990s and early 2000s, China continued its support to the Palestine cause. However before the signing of Oslo Accords in 1993, China had established diplomatic ties with Israel. This again was in the backdrop of several countries like India de-hyphenating their relationships with Israel and Palestine. After the signing of Oslo Accords Palestinian authority was established and China recognized the PA as the representative of Palestinians and maintained diplomatic relations with it.
China consistently during this period endorsed a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It supported the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to achieve a comprehensive and just settlement. China emphasized the need for a solution based on the relevant United Nations resolutions, the Arab Peace Initiative, and the principle of land for peace. However, China was completely against the illegal occupation of Palestinian area by Israel. China also provided some humanitarian aid to the Palestinian refugees.
As China took over Japan as the world’s second largest economy in 2010, it sort to deepen its economic engagement with the world. Under this objective China strengthened its economic cooperation with Palestine, both in Westbank and Gaza strip. To deepen the trade and economic relations, China promoted various initiatives in the fields of infrastructure development and investment.
To develop the infrastructure of Palestine, China heavily invested particularly in the areas of transportation, energy, and telecommunications. For example, China has been involved in the construction of highways, power plants, and the development of broadband networks.
In addition to this, China provided financial aid and assistance to the Palestinian authorities for the economic and infrastructural development. From 2010 onwards, China has offered the Palestinian authorities grants, concessional loans, and technical assistance. This was mainly in the fields of agriculture, healthcare, education and technology.
China has been a significant trading partner for the Palestinian territories. It has increased imports of Palestinian products such as agricultural goods, textiles, and handicrafts, while also promoting Chinese exports to the Palestinian market.
In the year 2013, Xi Jinping unveiled a roadmap of connecting China with the world through the ancient silk root. This plan initially framed as one belt one road(OBOR) was later renamed as belt and road initiative(BRI).
China included Palestine in this ambitious project. Apart from linking Palestine with China, the BRI has the potential to bring additional investment and infrastructure development in the Palestinian authorities.
China’s increased economic engagement with the Palestinian territories reflects its broader strategy of expanding economic ties and influence in the Middle East and other regions. It aligns with China’s emphasis on economic development as a means to promote stability and create mutually beneficial relationships.
However, it is important to note that China’s economic engagement with the Palestinian territories is not without controversy and has been subject to criticism. Some argue that it may perpetuate dependency on China and potentially complicate the political dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Mahmoud Abbas’s recent visit to China
Mahmoud Abbas(Palestinian president) in the month of June was on a state visit to China. He was honored with a 21-gun salute fired on Tiananmen square. And was hosted a dinner by the Chinese president Xi Jinping at the golden hall.
In their talks, both the leaders affirmed their support to each other’s legitimate claims. The most important outcome of this visit was elevating Palestinian and Chinese relationship to the strategic level.
Xi revisited the journey of the friendly relations between the two nations and stressed on the continuous support to the Palestinians. Before committing Chinese complete support to alleviate humanitarian difficulties and carryout reconstruction of Palestine, Xi also affirmed Chinese support to Palestine’s full membership of the international institutions particularly the united nations.
In addition to this, China is prepared to collaborate with Palestine and view the establishment of a strategic partnership as a chance to maintain reciprocal assistance regarding crucial matters, enhance comprehensive friendly cooperation, further develop Belt and Road cooperation, expedite discussions on the China-Palestine free trade agreement, boost exchanges on governance expertise, and promote the longstanding friendship between the two nations.
While acknowledging the amount of sufferings faced by the Palestinian people over more than half a century, Xi put forward a 3 pronged approach to this issue.
First, according to Xi, the primary resolution to the Palestine issue lies in the creation of an independent Palestinian state with complete sovereignty, based on the borders of 1967, and with east Jerusalem as its capital.
Second, it is crucial to address the economic and livelihood requirements of Palestine, and the international community should increase efforts to provide development assistance and humanitarian aid to support Palestine.
Third, it is crucial to maintain the correct trajectory of peace negotiations. The historical status quo of the holy sites in Jerusalem should be upheld, and actions or statements that are excessive or provocative should be avoided. It would be beneficial to convene a comprehensive and influential international peace conference on a large scale, which would create favorable conditions for the resumption of peace talks. Such efforts would contribute significantly to facilitating peaceful coexistence between Palestine and Israel. China is prepared to play a constructive role in assisting Palestine in achieving internal reconciliation and promoting peace talks.
Xi Jinping emphasized the importance of China’s readiness to collaborate with Palestine and other developing nations, particularly in light of the significant global changes occurring and the evolving dynamics in the Middle East. China aims to enhance solidarity and cooperation, intensify engagement in international and regional matters, promote collective cooperation between China and Arab countries, protect the shared interests of developing nations, and reaffirmed their unwavering support to the principles of international fairness and justice.
Abbas also reaffirmed the Palestine’s support to the policy of one China and to the core interests of Chinese people. He also supported various new international concepts like Global Security Initiative, the Global Development Initiative and the Global Civilization Initiative proposed by China.
The Shifts in the West Asia in favor of China are taking place rather rapidly. The elevation of China Palestine relationship to the strategic level and Xi’s 3 point proposal for the Palestinian issue is of much significance in many respects.
First significance is the growing role of China in this region. From mediating between Saudi Arab and Iran to the latest proposal on Israel and Palestine issue, China sees itself as a major player capable of resolving the issues of West Asia.
Second is the China’s BRI roadmap. As China is faced with increasing friction with the United States, China wants to deepen its linkages with the other parts of the world. BRI is an important roadmap for China to fulfill its aspirations of connecting with countries of the world without any potential security dilemmas.
Third implication of this visit is China’s unwavering support to the “just and legitimate” Palestinian cause. China aspires a stable West Asia capable of fulfilling the energy needs of China. Any kind of instability within this region has the potential of hurting China’s economic development, therefore, affecting the China’s rise in the international system.
Overall, the visit of Mahmoud Abbas to China achieved significant outcomes. From alleviating their relationship to strategic level, Palestinian authorities also received China’s continuing support for the Palestinian cause. Only the time will test the Xi’s 3-point proposal on the issue between Israel and Palestine. China continues to play an important role in the West Asian region and has the potential to resolve the internal differences provided it does not irk any of the regional players.