Amid the escalating conflict in Gaza, the global powers have responded cautiously, balancing their regional interests and international pressure to address the worsening humanitarian crisis. China’s response particularly remains significant amid Beijing’s increasing diplomatic, economic and security interactions with the region. In nearly every confrontation between Hamas and Israel, China has maintained a consistent approach: urging all parties to show restraint, emphasizing the significance of the two-state solution, and expressing a commitment to support peace talks. Beijing has aimed to maintain a balance between its economic ties with Israel and its aspiration to be seen as an advocate for Palestinians on the global stage while deepening its ties with the Arab world.
China’s traditional position on the Israel-Palestine issue has been rooted in its support for the Palestinian cause, reflecting a continuation of its policy since the era of Mao Zedong. Beijing has called for a ceasefire and condemned violence against civilians, focusing on Palestinian grievances. However, China’s stance is not solely guided by historical sympathies or ideological positions. China has expanded its ties with Israel, becoming a significant economic partner, especially in advanced technology sectors in recent decades. China is Israel’s second-largest trading partner and the trade volume has surged to $24.45 billion. Described as “pro-Palestinian neutrality,” China avoids direct blame on either party, allowing flexibility in navigating the situation. China’s diplomatic approach is further influenced by its economic interests in the Middle East, notably with regional powers like Saudi Arabia. China has strategically increased its economic investments in the Arab world and in light of the Hamas-Israel conflict, Beijing aims to protect its economic stakes in the region.
Against the backdrop of growing anti-US sentiment in the Middle East due to the conflict, China sees an opportunity to sway this sentiment in its favor. China aims to leverage the persisting grievances against the West to enhance its influence in the region. This aligns with Beijing’s broader strategy of projecting itself as an alternative global power as evident from Beijing’s recent diplomatic efforts in the Middle East including the mediation of the Saudi-Iran rapprochement deal. China adopts a cautious approach by increasing its diplomatic influence in the Hamas-Israel conflict without directly engaging in military actions. While expressing a commitment to peace, China refrains from direct military involvement, urging diplomatic solutions. This reflects China’s traditional policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations as emphasized in the Arab Policy Paper. Recent shifts in China’s response also indicate a growing alignment with the Global South in the Hamas-Israel conflict. China’s solidarity with the Palestinians is positioned to enhance its role in international negotiations. Chinese authorities have consistently expressed their goal of establishing peace in the region; nevertheless, Beijing has not been able to present a detailed plan outlining the steps toward achieving this objective. China’s responses highlight Beijing’s efforts to establish itself as a key player in shaping the narrative and outcome of the conflict.
During a call with the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan on October 15, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi strongly condemned Israeli actions in Gaza, characterizing them as “beyond the scope of self-defense” and amounting to collective punishment. Beijing also criticized the US votes in favor of Israel at the UN. Israel expressed deep dissatisfaction over China’s lack of condemnation of the attacks by Hamas. Amid the recent escalation in Gaza, China has criticized Israel more directly and Beijing has reiterated its condemnation of the US support for Israel at the UN. The Chinese state media also continues to amplify criticism against the United States.
As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), China wields its power to influence decisions related to the Hamas-Israel conflict. The use of the UN veto underscores China’s determination to assert its stance, often in opposition to the United States, reflecting Beijing’s willingness to challenge Western influence on the global stage. China’s Ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun said that the United States introduced a new draft resolution at the UNSC, deviating from the consensus and incorporating divisive elements. He also pointed out that despite proposed amendments by several UN member countries, including China, Russia, the UAE and Brazil, minimal changes were made and the United States rushed the vote. China and the UAE also urged the UNSC to adopt a resolution on Palestine that is “actionable.” China, as a co-sponsor, voted in favor of a resolution proposed by Jordan on behalf of 22 Arab countries, urging an immediate humanitarian truce, compliance with international law, opposing forced displacement of Palestinian civilians, and reaffirming the two-state solution which the United States voted against for not mentioning Hamas.
As the conflict escalates, China urges a ceasefire, condemns attacks on civilians and supports UN involvement. Notably, it criticizes specific Israeli actions, expressing concern for civilian casualties and the worsening humanitarian situation. China’s approach to the war in Gaza is a delicate balancing act between historical support for the Palestinian cause, protecting its regional interests, alignment with the Global South, and strategic positioning in the evolving global order.