Last month, the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, made his second trip to the Middle East this year, visiting Algeria, Egypt, and Syria. High on Wang’s agenda, according to Galia Lavi, was promoting his country’s coronavirus vaccine, along with Beijing’s ambitious infrastructure and economic projects for the region. He also had a third priority: the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Lavi writes:
Chinese statements show that it sees the Palestinian issue at the heart of the Middle East’s problems, and [believes, or at least claims to believe, that] lasting peace and security in the region depend on its resolution. . . . During [Wang’s] visit to Egypt in July, he put forward three ideas for achieving a two-state solution: enhancing the status of the Palestinian Authority; supporting the unity of Palestinian factions; and encouraging the resumption of peace talks based on the two-state solution.
China . . . identifies the Israel-Palestinian conflict as [the basis for rhetorical appeals to] Arab and Muslim audiences, [and] seeks to create for itself the image of a responsible power that stands beside an oppressed minority and offers to help achieve a solution for the benefit of both sides. Thus, the Israel-Palestinian conflict joins the list of topics that China can use to taunt the United States, while also playing down criticism of its own treatment of its Uyghur minority.
So far, Israel and China have been fairly successful at maintaining a policy that separates economic relations and mutual benefits from political disagreements. Thus, China continues to support Iran and the Palestinians, with no significant harm to its economic relations with Israel. . . . But as the rivalry between China and the U.S. grows, Beijing is expected to step up its efforts to cast Washington as a two-faced and irresponsible power while brushing away any criticisms relating to human rights. In this sense, the Israel-Palestinian conflict is very useful, and China’s position has broad international support even among some U.S. allies.