China’s Response to Israel’s War on Gaza


Since Hamas’ Operation Al Aqsa Storm and the subsequent military assault on the Gaza Strip, the global order has come under renewed stress, as if the Russia-Ukraine war was not enough. Pursuing the maximalist agenda of eliminating Hamas from Gaza, Israel has used every sort of ground attack weapon system short of a nuclear bomb. Tel Aviv’s stratagem has won unconditional support from the United States, Canada, the UK and Germany, to name a few Western nations.

On November 30, 2023, Beijing released a position paper, identifying itself as an advocate for peace and a proponent of the immediate cessation of hostilities. Beijing demanded a comprehensive ceasefire and an end to the fighting, effective protection of  civilians to prevent the displacement of Palestinians and ramping up of humanitarian assistance.  It also demanded countries with influence on the parties to the conflict to jointly play  a constructive role in de-escalating the crisis and formulating a concrete timetable and roadmap for the implementation of the two-state solution. Though it notably denounced Washington’s support for Israel, China did not repeat its mediation offer. In April 2023, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang offered China’s help to mediate between the Israelis and Palestinians, like Beijing had helped Saudi Arabia and Iran resume diplomatic ties. “It is never too late to do the right thing,” reiterated Wang Wenbin, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson. No such offer is on the table now as China stands by the Palestinian side, endorsing the sentiments in the Arab and Muslim worlds. So far, a dozen Chinese nationals have been killed, missing and injured since Israel’s war on Gaza.

With the Houthis targeting maritime traffic, the primary interest of Beijing has been to continue maritime commerce with the least disruption and no attacks. China demanded an end to the “disturbance to civilian ships,” urging the “relevant parties to avoid adding fuel to the fire,” with Beijing disagreeing with the US-UK strikes on Houthi sites. Liu Jianchao, China’s forthcoming foreign minister Director of the International Department of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), travelled to Iran in December 2023, but the visit did not help lower the temperature in the Red Sea. It was perhaps not intended to quell tensions but to secure safe passage for Chinese merchant vessels. Though Saudi Arabia and Egypt reject Israeli military escalation in Gaza, they are opposed to the Houthis’ destabilizing maneuvers. Restraining Tehran from turning the Red Sea into a warzone is in the interest of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and China.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and China’s top diplomat Wang Yi   are holding held secret meetings in various places. Their private discussions ranged from North Korea’s missile firing to tensions in the South China Sea and the compounding conflicts in the Middle East. Beijing’s position on Gaza and the Red Sea tensions is derived from its vital interests in the South China Sea. Hence, persistent conflict does not help either. The status quo definitely does. If the Gaza ceasefire is not achieved, Houthi attacks on merchant ships and US naval vessels and bases will continue to intensify, coupled with drone strikes by Iran’s proxies in Iraq and Syria, only to be avenged by the United States and its allies. Commerce will be an obvious casualty and China’s struggling economy cannot afford another major supply-chain disruption.

Now is the time for Xi to speak to his US counterpart to find common ground to end the hostilities. Washington is desperate for Beijing’s helping hand, which raises China’s profile as a peacemaker, while the United States opposes all efforts for a ceasefire. Both superpowers can avail of the opportunity to avert a catastrophic regional war that Iran believes it can win. 

Editorial Team