A more active role for China in the Arab-Israeli conflict?
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict—or to put it more narrowly, the Palestinian Problem—constitutes one of the most complex international problems and most difficult to solve. Traditionally, the Middle East was at the epicenter of the interest of the great powers because of its strategic position at the periphery of Eurasia and due to its large oil reserves.
In a volatile Middle East torn apart by the Syrian Civil War and the cruel actions of the so-called Islamic State, the Palestinian problem constitutes another source of imminent conflict and instability. Everyone can imagine the devastating consequences that a new crisis between Hamas and Israel or a violent Third Intifada will bring about in the region.
China as a great power and permanent member of the United Nations Security Council must assume a greater role in the peace process. Traditionally China has been a fervent supporter of international ethics and human rights. Currently, China follows a balanced stance regarding the Palestinian Problem, although in the past Chinese leaders as Mao Zedong and Den Xiaoping supported the rule of self-determination for the Palestinian people by providing both funds and weaponry to the PLO. (1) However, in the 1990s China started to develop an advanced commercial activity with Israel. (2)
More specifically, China contributes to the construction of a US$2 billion, 300 kilometer freight link connecting Eilat on the Red Sea with Ashdod in the Mediterranean. (3) This project, called “Red-Med” shows the mutual economic interdependence between the two countries.
However, the good relations between China and Israel did not prevent the Chinese government from supporting the 67/19 resolution of the General Assembly of the UN that upgraded Palestine to a non-member state in the United Nations in November 2012.
Consequently, China is in a position to be an honest broker in any future negotiations in the Middle East. It is well known that China wants to join the Middle East Peace Quartet in order to support the peace-process between Israelis and Palestinians. (4) Obviously, if China joins the Quartet it will enhance its great power status and on the other hand it may induce the Quartet to assume a more active intervention to the conflict.
From a geopolitical perspective, China’s involvement in the Middle East is seen by many as a counterbalance to the American hegemonic attitudes in the region. According to the theory of International Politics, great powers tend to seek opportunities in order to maximize their aggregate power and balance rival great powers. (5) China is not an exception to this diachronic norm of international politics. As a great power with the second largest economy in the world it will seek to promote its influence in the Middle East.
A further involvement by China in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by supporting the peace process may help Israelis and Palestinians to reach a comprehensive agreement based on the two-state solution. Such a development would be of great strategic importance because it will restore the balance of power in the region in a way that will help great and regional powers to confront transnational terrorism and other threats for the the sub-system of Middle-East.
1.Why China Must Pay Attention to the Israel-Palestine Conflict, July 19 2014, available from http://thediplomat.com/2014/07/why-china-must-pay-attention-to-the-israel-palestine-conflict/
2. Fred Halliday, The Middle East in International Relations: Power, Politics and Ideology, Cambridge, 2005
3. The algemeiner, Joshua Levitt, March 24, 2014
4. China Wants to Join Middle East Peace Quartet, January 15 2014, available from http://thediplomat.com/2014/01/china-wants-to-join-middle-east-peace-quartet/
5. John.J. Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, W.W. Norton & Company, New York 2003.