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China appears to shift stance on Israel, says it has 'right to self-defence' against Hamas

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi further expressed support for the 'two-state solution' on the Israel-Palestine conflict and said it opposes any act that harms civilians. China has so far not mention or condemn the Hamas surprise attack on Israel.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Beijing Published on: October 24, 2023 19:22 IST
Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi
Image Source : AP Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi

In an apparent shift of its stance, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Israeli counterpart that the Jewish country has the "right to self-defence" against Hamas, which launched a brutal surprise attack on October 7, killing hundreds of civilians.

"Every country has the right to self-defence but should abide by international humanitarian law and protect civilians," said Wang to his Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen in a phone conversation, according to China's state-run Xinhua news agency.

However, Wang reiterated China's earlier calls for immediate peace talks between the two warring parties, and urged Israel to abide by international norms and cause even more humanitarian hardship, particularly in Gaza.

"The current Palestinian-Israeli conflict affects the whole world and involves a major choice between war and peace," Wang told Cohen, who briefed the Chinese foreign minister about Israel's position in the war and security concerns.

Wang further said that China opposes any act that harms civilians and asserted that the 'two-state solution' of the Israel-Palestine conflict is the consensus of the international community. 

"It is hoped that the two sides can consider the current situation as well as the long-term interests of peace and security shared by future generations, return to the right track of the two-state solution as soon as possible, resume peace talks and realize the peaceful coexistence of Palestine and Israel and the harmonious coexistence of the Arab and Jewish nations," he said.

Why is this statement important?

Prior to Wang's comment, China refrained from condemning the Hamas attack on Israel, instead, it opposed attacks on civilians and called for an immediate ceasefire to protect civilians amid Israel's relentless bombardment of the Gaza Strip in retaliation for the Hamas attack.

It is largely believed that China, a key rival of the United States, wants to place itself as a mediator in hopes of exerting influence in the Middle East in lieu of the wavering global attention of the US. However, the latest conflict has dragged Washington back into the Middle East with a visit from President Joe Biden to Israel.

Notably, China has deep economic interests in the Middle East and the Arab nations, related to the oil market and the Belt and Road Initiative. It also seeks to counter US influence in the region, as Washington is a key ally of Israel. It has supported the cause of an independent Palestinian state for decades and wants to safeguard its interests.

Earlier, Wang remarked that Israel's actions have "gone beyond the scope of self-defence" and called for the country to heed the calls of the international community and avoid "collective punishment" of the people of Gaza, according to Global Times.

China has been criticised by some Western countries for failing to condemn the Hamas attack on Israel more than two weeks ago. 

Wang to visit the United States

Meanwhile, Wang is set to visit the United States, his first after re-assuming the ministry following the mysterious disappearance of his predecessor Qin Gang in another attempt for a thaw in the relations between America and China. 

According to Chinese officials, he will stay there for three days where will meet his American counterpart Antony Blinken and will make an attempt to minimise the turbulent relations between the two heads of state-- President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Joe Biden.  

It is worth mentioning the relations between Washington and Beijing have become increasingly fraught lately. The two nations have been locked in an escalating trade spat since early 2018, raising import tariffs on each other's goods.

Both sides will discuss a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues as part of ongoing efforts to manage the US-China relationship responsibly and maintain open channels of communication, the State Department said.

(with input from agencies)

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