Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas is visiting Beijing ahead of a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Ahead of both trips, Chinese officials said that they would be willing to assist with talks between the two leaders. From the New York Times:
China has tried to maintain firm ties with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority while supporting Palestinian demands for statehood and occasionally chiding the Israeli government for its policies toward the Palestinians. But it has shown little appetite for taking on a role as a broker in that and other conflicts in the Middle East.
Still, Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, told reporters in Beijing last week that “if the Palestinian and Israeli leaders want to meet each other in China, we will happily provide the necessary assistance.”
China “supports the Palestinian and Israeli sides in resolving their differences and disputes through peace talks,” Ms. Hua said on Thursday. “China’s reception of the Palestinian and Israeli leaders for visits is also a part of these efforts.”
Mr. Netanyahu will arrive in Beijing on Wednesday, and Mr. Abbas is to leave on Tuesday night, according to Israeli government officials, who said there would be no encounter between the two in China.
An article in Xinhua expanded on the government position on the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks:
The planned visits to China by Israeli and Palestinian leaders indicate that the new Chinese leadership devotes much attention to the Middle East issues and the development of the relations between China, Israel and the Palestinians, said Wu, who arrived here Sunday for a two-day visit.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords, yet the Middle East peace process has stalled for quite some time, with the Middle East region witnessing some significant changes, he said.
China has always stood for resolving the Palestinian issue through negotiations and has been much concerned over the prolonged stalemate in the peace process, Wu said, adding that China is willing to push Israel and the Palestinians to take some practical moves in order to create a good atmosphere for the resumption of the peace process.
It’s a promising sign. Probably not for the Israel-Palestine peace process, which has demonstrated a remarkable ability to resist mediating efforts by more experienced and invested powers, but for China’s foreign policy. The offer, whatever comes of it, could indicate that China sees its role in world affairs evolving from that of an insecure outsider to the kind of responsible global power it wants to be.
China has made some previous efforts to project power in the Middle East, by low-bidding on high-profile development projects in Algeria and Saudi Arabia, for example, or by helping to support the regime in Sudan when it was otherwise isolated. China continues to oppose international action on Syria or Iran, and buys large amounts of oil from the latter. Those efforts have mostly positioned China as a sort of spoiler to Western powers, exploiting holes in the U.S.- and Europe-dominated international system.
A gesture to mediate in Israel-Palestine, though, suggests that Beijing may be getting more serious about upholding that international system rather than free-riding off of it. Beijing has long opposed the Western power projection it says is imperialistic, from the NATO-led Balkans interventions to U.S. overseas bases in East Asia to Western sanctions on rogue states. But the truth is that China also deeply relies on the international system of free trade and global security, enforced in large part by Western power, without which China’s export-led growth would never have been possible.