Last week, December 21-22, China hosted the Palestinian-Israeli Peace Symposium, in Beijing. Although China has hosted the symposium twice before, once in Beijing, once in Jerusalem, this is the first such event held under ambitious Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The symposium featured 8 delegates from Israel and Palestine, all in favor of a two-state solution, as well as 7 delegates from mainland China. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, was also in attendance, meeting with both groups separately.
Beijing’s increased desire to insert itself in the Palestine-Israel issue comes shortly after President Donald Trump’s announcement that the US recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and will be moving its embassy to Jerusalem. As President Trump returns to his anti-China rhetoric and financial analysts report that China may overtake the US as the main economic superpower in the next decade, China, hardly known for their concern over human rights, may be trying to position itself as a counterweight and potential challenger to the US in the Palestine vs Israel issue.
The symposium ultimately resulted in a paper written by the delegates promoting a two-state solution, but more interesting were the statements made my delegates and Chinese officials.
Statements at the event from China’s Special Envoy on the Middle East Issue, Gong Xiaosheng, highlight Beijing’s desire to play a more prominent role in resolving the ongoing conflict. Gong explained that China chose to host the symposium to, “play an active and constructive role in promoting the settlement of the Palestine-Israel issue.” Gong came short of referring to China’s superpower status, instead calling China a “major country” saying, “China, as a major country, could play an important role” and “create conditions for promoting stronger and effective international endeavors in advancing peace talks.”
Although the Palestinian leader, President Mahmoud Abbas, was not in attendance, he did send a letter with his delegation thanking China for their support, which was read aloud at the symposium. Member of the Executive Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Ahmed Majdalani then underscored this point, “We appreciate China’s support to us in the United Nations, especially at the Security Council on the 18th and the General Assembly.”
At the UN General Assembly, also on December 21st, China voted in favor of a non-binding resolution rejecting the United States’ recent recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Just before the vote, Wang discussed China’s position on the Palestine-Israel issue, referring to the Palestinian people’s lack of a state as a “historical tragedy.”
While meeting with the Palestinian delegation at last weeks symposium, Wang assured the delegation, “China’s stance is clear and we have always upheld our claim — that is, we support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state that enjoys full sovereignty, with East Jerusalem as its capital and based on the 1967 border.” In regards to Jerusalem, Wang clarified that China believes the final status of the city should be decided later with the help of the international community.
Wang went on to say that peace can never be established in the Middle East unless, “the Palestine issue is solved,” while urging the Palestinian delegates to utilize the United Nations and remain committed to dialogue. The Chinese News outlet Xinhua, reported that the Palestinian representatives of President Abbas expressed their hope that China would play a larger role in the Middle East, but did not provide a direct quote from either delegate.
For Peace or Status?
Recently, financial analysts have reported that China may eclipse the US as the largest economic superpower within the next decade. However, others have argued that this alone will not be enough to overtake the US as the world’s foremost superpower. China must also prove itself a cultural and diplomatic force. Talking on a larger role in Palestinian-Israeli peace talks could be a major step for Beijing, who has also supported Palestine in keeping with the Marxist tradition set by Chairman Mao Zedong.
Palestinian leaders continue to insist that under President Trump, they will not accept the US as a mediator to peace talks, potentially opening the doors for other superpowers to get involved in the negotiations. Eyes turn to both China and Japan as possible mediators.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to be sticking with his ally. After being invited by Japan to a diplomatic summit to meet with President Abbas, Israel signaled that they would only be willing to attend if the US was also invited. An official for the government said, “The Japanese are serious, and we will go anywhere any time… It is in the hands of the Americans. We want them to be involved in the process, and if they agree and go, we will have no objections.”
This summer, the UN ambassador for China urged the UN to accept President Xi’s four point plan for a solution to the Palestine-Israel issue. President Xi’s four points include:
A two-state solution based on 1967 borders. East Jerusalem would serve as the capital of the Palestinian state.
An immediate end to the building of Israeli settlements.
Joint international efforts towards “peace-promoting measures that entail joint participation at an early date.”
Promoting peace through development.
Xinhua reports that the Palestinian delegates “spoke highly” of President Xi’s plan. The points are in line with the general consensus of the international community towards Palestinian-Israeli conflict. A noteworthy point of the plan is the idea of peace through development. This point reflects the general atmosphere of international relations. Many economists would argue the globalized economy has the potential to create peace, even if begrudgingly between economic partners, who literally can’t afford to have conflict.
The final point also highlights China’s economic interests in seeing Palestinian-Israeli “development and cooperation.” Both Israel and Palestine are partners in the “One Belt, One Road” initiative which seeks to utilize Chinese funding to develop transport routes connecting Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe, through land and sea.
Meanwhile, China may have a two-state issue of its own, as tensions continue to rise with Taiwan, although both nations technically still adhere to the “one China” policy.