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China’s Xi Urges End to Israel-Hamas Conflict Through Two-State Solution

Visitors pass a video screen showing Chinese President Xi Jinping at the museum of the Communist Party of China in Beijing, Oct. 19, 2023.
Visitors pass a video screen showing Chinese President Xi Jinping at the museum of the Communist Party of China in Beijing, Oct. 19, 2023.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping made his first public comment about the Israel-Hamas conflict Thursday, calling for a cease-fire and reiterating that establishing “an independent state of Palestine” through a two-state solution is the “fundamental way out of” the conflict.

"The top priority is to stop the fighting as soon as possible, prevent the conflict from spreading or even getting out of control and causing a severe humanitarian crisis," Xi said during his meeting with Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly in Beijing.

Some analysts say Xi’s remarks are consistent with Beijing’s decadeslong position on issues related to the Palestinians. "The statements that have come out [from Beijing] since October 8 are consistent with views that China has been expressing all the way back to at least 1997," Dawn Murphy, an associate professor of national security strategy at the U.S. National War College, told VOA by phone.

She said China does not see the latest Israel-Hamas conflict as "dramatically shifting their position."

"They see this as part of a much longer-term Palestinian-Israeli conflict," Murphy said.

Apart from reiterating the need to implement a two-state solution, Xi praised Egypt’s efforts to help de-escalate the situation and said Beijing “stands ready to strengthen coordination with Egypt and other Arab countries” to facilitate "a comprehensive, just, and enduring solution to the Palestinian question at an early date."

The conflict began after the Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel on Oct. 7, killing at least 1,400 people and abducting close to 200 Israeli citizens to Gaza. Israel retaliated by launching airstrikes against targets throughout Gaza that have killed at least 3,500 Palestinians.

China goes easy on Hamas

China has been reluctant to publicly condemn Hamas for the attack on Israel, which drew criticisms from Jerusalem and Washington. As the Israeli military ramped up airstrikes against Gaza, Beijing has toughened its criticism of Israel, saying that country’s actions had gone beyond the scope of self-defense.

Some experts believe that Beijing’s reluctance to condemn Hamas is to avoid damaging its deepened relations with other Middle Eastern countries.

"China has made significant inroads [in the Middle East] since Washington’s general pullback from the Middle East and they don’t want to offend the Arab world," said Dennis Wilder, who served as National Security Council director during former U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration.

Since the U.S. remains the main security guarantor for most Middle Eastern countries, Wilder said China has an easy role that allows them to "call for peace" without needing to take responsibility for what’s happening in the region.

"The idea of China as a mediator in this situation doesn’t fit with the reality," he told VOA by phone.

China has tried to present itself as a mediator in the Middle East in recent months. In March, China brokered a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran that saw the regional rivals agree to reestablish diplomatic relations and reopen embassies.

Then in April, former Chinese Foreign Ministry Qin Gang told his Israeli and Palestinian counterparts that Beijing was prepared to help facilitate peace talks between the two sides.

In addition to Xi’s first public comment on the conflict, China’s special envoy to the Middle East, Zhai Jun, who kicked off his trip to the Middle East and held a meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov in Qatar on Thursday, said Beijing is willing to "maintain communication and coordination" with Moscow to de-escalate the situation in the region "as soon as possible."

The meeting came one day after Xi met Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing. Apart from reaffirming bilateral ties, Xi and Putin had an "in-depth exchange of views" on the Palestinian-Israeli situation, according to the official readout released by the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Wednesday.

Since Israel intensified airstrikes against Gaza, China and Russia have repeatedly called for a cease-fire and avoided condemning Hamas. Rather than intentionally aligning their positions on the escalating conflict, though, some analysts say Beijing and Moscow’s coordination seems "incidental."

"I would describe the situation as China and Russia putting in their own efforts to address the Israel-Hamas war ostensibly independently of each other, but their efforts happen to align," said Wen-ti Sung, an Australian National University political scientist.

"China does not want to be seen as needing Russian help in order to lead, and should things go sour, China does not wish to be entrapped in Russia’s own quagmires," Sung told VOA in a written response.

China’s limited influence in the Middle East

As Chinese special envoy Zhai continues his trip in the Middle East, Wilder, who is now a senior fellow for the Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues at Georgetown University, said Beijing is unlikely to play an active role in lowering tensions in the Middle East.

"China could offer to talk to parties if it wishes to and it has relationships that could be of use," he told VOA. "But China has to want to do those things. I don’t see them leveraging the influence they have in the Middle East in an effective manner."

While China is aware of its limited influence on the Israel-Hamas war, Murphy from the U.S. National War College predicted that Beijing may be interested in helping efforts to deliver humanitarian aid.

"We might see some movement there," she told VOA, adding that the desires of parties involved in the conflict may determine the type of results that China could achieve.