Monday June 1, 2020


May 15, 2013

Recent overlapping visits by both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to China have sparked media debates regarding China’s potential role in negotiating Middle East peace agreements. While both leaders reportedly sought to emphasize their desire for stronger trade relations with China, Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasized negotiations as a key focus of the meetings. Prior to the two leaders’ visits, Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry stated, “If the leaders of Palestine and Israel have the will to meet in China, China is willing to offer necessary assistance.” Despite this offer, no meetings between the two sides were held, and their itineraries were carefully arranged to keep Abbas and Netanyahu in separate cities during the duration of their time there.

Though no peace negotiations were held, Xi used their visits to emphasize China’s potential mediating advantages through its “friendship” with both parties of the dispute. Xi stressed “…resolving disputes through political means is a strategic option that is in the interests of all sides concerned.” He additionally promised to continue adhering to an impartial stance in order to facilitate talks, make contributions to resolving problems, and realize peace and stability in the Middle East.

More concretely, during his meetings with President Abbas, Xi Jinping offered a four-point proposal for the two parties. Xi’s proposal called for a halt to settlement activities, an end to violence against civilians, a negotiating framework of “land for peace”, and an independent Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders. These proposals do not represent a change in China’s past stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict, nor does it widely differ from proposals put forth by other countries.

While Abbas publicly welcomed China’s involvement in the efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu only spoke to the press on his goal for greater economic cooperation with China. Prior to his visit, Netanyahu expressed a desire to bring trade with China to $10 billion within three years and to advance a free trade agreement in economic cooperation accords in research and development and innovative technology. Apart from his public focus on economics, Netanyahu was also believed to have hoped his visit would garner greater Chinese support in restraining Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Abbas similarly held economic goals for his visit, signing agreements on economic technical cooperation and cultural exchanges while in China.

China has traditionally been a strong supporter of the Palestinian state, although as China has grown more pragmatic and economically focused in its foreign policy, its stance regarding Palestine has somewhat mellowed. Israel-focused media reports noted that despite China’s support for an independent Palestinian state, Xi also assured Netanyahu that “Israel’s right to exist and its legitimate security concerns should also be fully respected.”

Why is China Interested in the Middle East?

Some scholars argue that China’s interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–and regional stability in general–is based on its desire for greater clout in the Middle East, a major source of China’s oil imports. Others suggest this involvement is less an attempt to achieve an actual resolution to the dispute, but rather an expression of the desire to become involved more generally in the region and to be respected as a global player.

Further perspectives stress the need for China to build positive relations with Muslim countries as it attempts to maintain stability in its own western, Muslim-minority-populated regions. Still others suggest China’s actions reflect an evolving view of its role as a responsible global power, and depict a China that is serious about upholding the current international system rather than free-riding off of it.

What do China’s actions mean for the U.S.?

As the U.S. has traditionally been one of the most active foreign powers involved in the Israel-Palestine peace process, some media reports have questioned what China’s proposed new role will mean for U.S. involvement in the negotiations—particularly as the U.S. and China have found themselves at odds over other regional issues such Syria’s civil war and Iran’s nuclear program. Additionally, some reports have highlighted how the U.S. pivot to Asia, and subsequent reduced emphasis on the Middle East, is opening space for China to become more involved in the region.

However, despite such occasional conflicts of interest, there is plenty of opportunity for China to serve a productive role, congruous with U.S. goals in the region. According to He Wenping, director of the African Research Section at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China’s proposal for Israel and Palestine is complementary with America’s diplomacy, saying “It’s walking toward the same direction. They are not going in opposite directions. It’s not like the Syria crisis.” Furthermore, despite China’s traditional support for Palestine, its aid and other contributions to the Palestinian Authority are still far behind those of the U.S. and European Union.

Regardless of its intentions, many remain skeptical of China’s ability to become a productive actor in the peace negotiations. One scholar from the Bar Illan University in Israel is quoted as saying, “The Chinese are trying to be Europeans. They want to be global actors, and the way to be global actors is to claim that you have something to offer. They have good trade relations with Israel, but there’s a huge gap in terms of understanding the perceptions of the region.” Furthermore, another scholar from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem emphasized that Xi’s proposal is “not really a plan, just a collection of slogans trying to satisfy everybody.”

Ultimately, as both leaders have already left China, it is apparent that China-led negotiations between Israel and Palestine will not be happening any time soon. However, Xi’s statements surrounding their visits appear to mark a desire for greater involvement in the region—something that will surely be carefully watched by scholars and policymakers alike.


For further information on Abbas’ and Netanyahu’s visit to China, please see the following news sources:

Bloomberg – Israel Pushes for China Investment as Xi Focuses on Peace

Business Spectator – China’s pragmatic Middle Eastern surprise

China Daily – Xi calls for Middle East talks – Abbas concludes visit to China with ‘great success’

Christian Science Monitor – Why China is welcoming both Israel’s Netanyahu and Palestinians’ Abbas

The EconomistPlaying the peacemaker?

Global Times – Chinese popular sympathies swinging against Israel

Tablet – Why Netanyahu and Abbas Went to China

Time – China can Posture, but It Can’t Bring Peace to the Middle East

Times of Israel – China offers subtle signals of encouragement for Netanyahu

Washington Post – Why it’s great news that China wants to mediate Israel-Palestine talks

Xinhua – Chinese President makes four-point proposal for settlement of Palestinian question

Xinhua – Chinese president meets Israeli PM, pledges efforts for peace in Middle East

Xinhua – Commentary: China plays greater role in Mideast


For Chinese language commentary on Abbas’ and Netanyahu’s visit to China, please see the following news sources:

China News – 以色列总理访华:望成为中国完美合作伙伴

CRI (国际在线) – 以色列总理结束访华 经济成果备受关注

CRI (国际在线) – 巴勒斯但总理称中国式公正国家 只坚持维护正义

Deutsche Welle – 北京进入外交调停时代?

People’s Daily (人民日报) – 拓展双边务实合作 推动中东和平进程

People’s Daily (人民日报) – 习近平会见以色列总理

People’s Daily (人民日报) – 中方坚定支持巴勒斯但人民的正义事业

Voice of America (美国之声) – 阿巴斯和内塔尼亚胡同期访问中国

Xinhua (新华) – 阿巴斯称巴勒斯但欢迎中国积极参与中东和平进程


Compiled and edited by Catherine Beck.