Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s recent six-country whirlwind tour of the Middle East has demonstrated greater ambitions of the country in the region.
Political analysts have noted that Wang’s offer to host peace talks between Israeli and Palestine was not only a message to the US but also Beijing’s intention to involve itself deeply in the issues confronting the Middle East.
Observers believe that China has traditionally maintained a low profile in Middle East diplomacy. But in recent years it has tried to play a more active role as part of its quest for markets, resources, and diplomatic influence.
While Israelis are yet to officially comment on the offer, Palestinian leaders welcomed it.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Einar Tangen, a Chinese political and economic commentator, said Wang’s six-country tour that also took him to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran demonstrates the country’s active engagement in the Middle East.
He said that China’s attitude to forge regional peace and stability is of the best interest of the Middle East and Beijing as well, which is heavily dependent on energy supplies from the region.
“In contrast to the US, which is pulling out from the Middle East as it has grown self-sufficiency in oil,” he said.
Chinese scholar further stated that his country does not use its ideological baggage in the foreign policy issues, adding that the country is only interested in trade and improving the lives of people.
“China believes that the US has an essence in the broken Middle East with these forever wars. Afghanistan was the beginning of it, Iraq was a huge issue, after this point you see terrorism and extremism on the rise,” he said.
Einar added that China wants to reverse the US policy to see prosperity in the region. In this context, he said that Palestinian leaders were quick to hail Wang’s offer to mediate in the conflict given the fact that China favors a two-state solution.
Biden’s hesitation is Chinese’s opportunity
Wadee Abu Nassar, head of the Haifa-based International Center for Consultations in Israel described the Chinese initiative of offering peace talks as an “opportunity”.
“What it seems that Biden administration is showing hesitation on how and with whom to engage in the Middle East, this offer of Beijing is an opportunity to involve more in the Middle East and to have a say on various issues there,” he said.
He added that the stalled Israel-Palestine process needs a push and probably Chinese have hinted that they can do so.
Abu Nassar, a former lecturer at Tel-Aviv University, said the Chinese want to translate their economic power to gain strategic depth in the Far East and also in the Middle East. He said the Chinese initiative with Iran, Israel, and Palestinians, indicates that the Chinese are examining possibilities to play a larger role in this region.
Mohammad Makram Balawi, head of Istanbul-based Asian Studies Forum, said he was not surprised at China’s desire to seek more role in the region.
“The Middle East plays a pivotal role in the Chinese BRI [road and belt initiative], most probably the Chinese are very worried that this important area would witness more wars and more conflict. In principle, we witness many similarities between the Chinese stance on the Palestinian cause and the European one,” he said.
Balawai, however, stated that Palestinians are more inclined to participate in an international conference rather than the one hosted by China.
“Yet, they won’t refuse it because traditionally, China was a very important supporter of the Palestinian cause and they would like to give the Chinese a chance. Palestinian Authority may not be very enthusiastic to cooperate with this initiative, yet, they will take the Chinese invitation very seriously,” he added.
Abu Nassar argues that this initiative will face many challenges that may include reaction from Israel, or if Tel Aviv has anything to offer at this time on the table. Further, he said that the Chinese do not look to exert pressure on Israelis to offer major concessions to Palestinians to sustain the peace process.
“Although Chinese seem to be serious about the invitation, I doubt that this initiative will go too far,” he added.
Balawi said he does not foresee Chinese military presence in the region.
“Their aim is not to change the current situation, rather they want to be part of the future of the region, and they will not leave it solely into the US or Russia,” he said, adding that traditionally all superpowers are inclined to have a footprint the middle east.
Abu Nassar agrees that the Middle East has been always an attractive region for the global powers.
“The Soviet Union in the past, now Russia, which plays a big role in Syria and Iran. No doubt that China has been playing an economic role in this region, which has been considered in many decades as if being an American area,” he added.