The recent increase in conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has sparked strong reactions globally and put Beijing in a difficult position. Recent data indicates that Hamas’ terrorist attack on Saturday resulted in the death of at least 1,300 Israelis, and the Israeli government’s retaliatory strikes have killed at least 1,400 Palestinians. Additionally, over 338,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been forced to leave their homes. While China strives to maintain positive relationships with both Israel and Palestine, its official response to the crisis has faced backlash for its lack of commitment and alleged pro-Palestinian bias in state media coverage.
Following the attack by Hamas, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) of China issued a statement expressing deep concern about the escalating tensions and violence between Palestine and Israel. The MFA urged all involved parties to remain calm, show restraint, and immediately put an end to the hostilities in order to protect civilians and prevent further deterioration of the situation. The statement did not mention Hamas by name or refer to the attack as an act of terrorism. It also emphasized the implementation of a two-state solution as the key to resolving the conflict. However, it should be noted that the Chinese government has consistently opposed the idea of a two-state solution in cases related to the People’s Republic of China, such as Taiwan and Hong Kong. Additionally, it has urged other countries to support its harsh policies in Xinjiang under the pretext of combating terrorism. In subsequent days, MFA spokespersons reiterated the call for peace talks and a two-state solution to address the legitimate concerns of both parties.
China’s response to the conflict between Israel and Hamas or Palestine was more restrained compared to the strong support shown by Western governments. Many Israelis viewed this as taking the side of Hamas or Palestine, with former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford stating that China seemed afraid of offending the Arab side. Analysts and journalists described the Chinese response as lacking in effectiveness, with some arguing that it showed a reluctance to engage in true conflict mediation. James Pomfret, Joe Cash, and Chen Lin from Reuters reported on the reactions of these analysts.
This statement undermines the propaganda that portrays China as a dominant force in the Middle East, according to Bill Figueroa, an assistant professor at the University of Groningen and a specialist in China-Middle East connections.
According to Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London, China’s leader Xi Jinping desires to be held in high regard and esteemed globally, particularly in the Middle East. However, when it comes to addressing difficult regional security concerns, China ultimately lacks the willingness to take necessary actions. Instead, it tends to focus on easily attainable goals and does not go beyond that.
According to Jean-Loup Samaan, a Senior Research Fellow at the Middle East Institute of the National University of Singapore, China has achieved great success in promoting peace and reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran in a stable Middle Eastern environment.
According to Samaan, dealing with conflicts is a completely different matter and China has never expressed a desire to take on that responsibility.
In his analysis for Foreign Policy, James Palmer outlined how the Chinese public is torn in their response to the conflict.
China’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has caused a divide among the public. In the past, there was widespread support for Muslim countries and the Arab world as they were seen as victims of U.S. imperialism. However, there has been a rise in Islamophobia among the Chinese public, partly due to state influence, following incidents of unrest in Xinjiang in 2013 and a terrorist attack in 2014. This has resulted in a shift towards supporting Israel in China.
The Weibo page for the Israeli Embassy in China received a mix of comments, with some showing support while others criticized Israeli policy. There were also some posts containing antisemitic views, which have increased in China since 2009 when a book promoting a conspiracy theory about Jews being responsible for the global financial crisis became popular. Notably absent from the discussion were mentions of two Chinese workers who were reportedly killed in Hamas attacks. [Source]
Hu Xijin, the previous editor-in-chief of Global Times, stated that the Chinese people are very calm and rational when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, Wenhao Ma from VOA shared on Twitter screenshots of Weibo conversations after the attack that showed clear examples of antisemitism.
The Chinese government’s media outlets seemed to strongly support Palestine in their reporting of the conflict. Certain reports from state media used news clips from Iran to spread false information about Israeli airstrikes, which became popular on Weibo. CCTV news aired minimal coverage of Hamas’ attacks in Israel and Israeli casualties, but showed a significant amount of footage of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza. In his Tuesday edition of the “CCTV Follies” newsletter on Substack, Phil Cunningham analyzed the distribution of CCTV’s coverage.
China’s television news coverage of the conflict between Gaza and Israel remains heavily biased. Similar to the coverage of Ukraine, the politically savvy TV editors (directed by the strict rules of the party and Xi) openly express their sympathies towards the CCP. This is evident in the images they choose to broadcast, which primarily focus on damaged buildings in Gaza, while deliberately omitting footage of Hamas’ violent attacks on innocent civilians and villages, as well as hostage situations, despite the availability of such footage from wire services.
Today’s Gaza/Israel crisis clips:
-20 shots of Gaza being bombed
-2 shots of Israeli tanks on the move
-3 “victim” shots of rocket contrails over Israel
Two instances of Sergei Lavrov discussing peace [Source]
The majority of articles on the Global Times website regarding the conflict expressed the official stance of the Chinese government, reprimanded the U.S. and Western countries for increasing tensions, and scrutinized U.S.-funded projects in the area. Some titles included, “U.S. and West urged to address Palestine issue as tensions continue,” and “GT Opinion: Who benefits from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?” The latter argued that “the U.S. military-industrial complex stands to gain the most from a Middle East conflict” and that their response is always to escalate violence rather than promoting peace. Similar pieces were featured on the China Daily website, which primarily reported on casualties but gave slightly more attention to deaths in Gaza.
Numerous Chinese individuals witnessed the Hamas attack firsthand. Several Chinese students residing in Israel shared videos capturing the sounds of gunfire and explosions near their residences. One Chinese worker sustained serious injuries from rocket shrapnel, and a 25-year-old Chinese-Israeli woman named Noa Argamani, who was born in Beijing, was abducted by Hamas, as shown in a viral video on social media. The Chinese embassy in Israel affirmed that Argamani had been forcefully taken from Israel to Gaza. It has been reported that the hashtag “Israel says a mixed Chinese Israeli girl has been kidnapped” was censored on Weibo. An article from Global Times included a statement from a Chinese citizen who was able to return to Beijing via Hainan Airlines, stating, “Upon landing in the capital, the entire cabin erupted in enthusiastic applause.” Unfortunately, other Chinese citizens were not as fortunate and allegedly did not receive adequate support from the embassy.
Carice Witte, who leads the SIGNAL Group, a think tank in Israel that focuses on China, discussed with China Talk her perspective on how Chinese officials have reacted to the conflict, based on both private and public Chinese discussions.
In the past few days, I have communicated with many Chinese advisors, experts, and academics from the government and political party. Each one of them has expressed sincere support and solidarity with Israel and its people.
I comprehend that numerous Chinese individuals are receiving an abundance of false and misleading information, a common occurrence. However, this indicates that government censorship is permitting the spread of this misinformation on platforms such as Weibo and other social media sites.
China’s perspective is heavily influenced by their ongoing competition with the United States, evident in their concern over US power and its ability to form strong alliances. This rhetoric is shaping their understanding of the current situation. [Source]
Kawala Xie, writing for the South China Morning Post, discussed the potential negative impact on China’s relationship with Israel due to their response to the conflict.
The ongoing crisis could potentially impact the relationship between China and Israel. China has historically attempted to maintain a neutral stance by backing the establishment of a Palestinian state while also maintaining robust economic connections with Israel.
According to Galia Lavi, an expert in the Belt and Road Initiative and the relationship between China and Israel at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, Israel was dissatisfied with China’s inadequate reaction to the Hamas attacks.
During times of necessity, genuine friends are uncovered. Despite the US offering Israel both verbal and tangible aid, including deploying an aircraft carrier to the area to prevent Iran and Hezbollah from exacerbating the situation, China has not even expressed sympathy. This is extremely disappointing, as stated by Lavi. [Source]
China’s increasing involvement in the Middle East positions it as a significant player in the ongoing conflict. In June, President Xi Jinping welcomed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to Beijing and advocated for Palestine to become a “full member” of the United Nations. In March, China played a role in facilitating a truce between Iran and Saudi Arabia. With its status as the top importer of oil from both countries, China is vulnerable to the current instability in the region, particularly if it intensifies. According to Philip Andrews-Speed, an expert on China’s oil policies at the National University of Singapore, China has maintained positive relations with Iran, which has strong ties to Hamas and has been implicated in the recent attack. As a result, there have been calls for China to use its influence to help contain the conflict. On social media, analysts have discussed the correlation between China’s regional influence and its willingness to mediate.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to travel to Beijing in the near future, but it seems that the trip will be delayed. On Sunday, the deputy ambassador of Israel to China expressed disapproval of the Chinese government’s official stance on the issue: “Now is not the appropriate time to propose a two-state solution.” Despite rumors that the Weibo account belonging to the Israeli embassy in China was temporarily removed from search results, it is currently still accessible on Weibo. The embassy has also implemented a manual comment filtering system on its Weibo account, which is a common practice among many embassies in China when faced with an influx of negative comments.