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China's Xi calls for Palestinian statehood, pledges more Gaza aid in summit with Arab states

The summit was attended by leaders of Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). China has long backed Palestinians and has not criticised the Hamas-led attack on Israel on October 7, despite having economic ties with Israel.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Beijing Published on: May 30, 2024 13:56 IST
china, egypt
Image Source : REUTERS China’s President Xi Jinping with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Beijing: Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday reiterated calls for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and promised more humanitarian aid for people in Gaza as he opened a summit with leaders of Arab states in Beijing on Thursday. China has long backed Palestinians and denounced Israel over its settlements in the occupied territories and has not criticised the October 7 attack by Hamas, despite sharing economic ties with Israel.

“Since last October, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has escalated drastically, throwing people into tremendous suffering,” Xi said in a speech opening the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum. “War should not continue indefinitely," he added, calling on the Arab states to deepen cooperation in areas such as trade, clean energy, space exploration and health care.

Xi said China would continue to support alleviating the humanitarian crisis, and post-war rebuilding in Gaza, pledging to provide another 500 million yuan ($69 million) in emergency humanitarian assistance. He also pledged to donate $3 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East to support its emergency assistance to the Gaza region. He said China would further cooperate with Arab states on several fronts including in the oil and gas fields, as well as larger-scale investments.

 

The summit attended by heads of state from Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Tunisia among others was set to focus on China's expanding trade ties and on security concerns related to the Israel-Hamas war. This comes when Israel is facing international condemnation after the strike in the southern Gaza city of Rafah in which at least 45 were killed over the weekend. The overall Palestinian death toll in the war exceeds 36,000, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Why is China backing Palestinians despite ties with Israel?

According to Maria Papageorgiou, a lecturer in politics and international relations at University of Exeter, China's priorities in the region are "primarily economic" as it wants to continue the momentum established in recent years with Gulf states and expand its investments, particularly in trade, technology (5G networks), and other cyber initiatives. 

Additionally, China wants to present itself as an alternative to the West and a more credible partner to the region, one that doesn't interfere in the nations' domestic affairs nor exert pressure, Papageorgiou said. China has sought to play a diplomatic role in the Middle East, helping broker an agreement to re-establish ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran after seven years of tension.

China's engagement with Middle East countries

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi met Xi on Wednesday. The two leaders signed a series of cooperation agreements in areas such as infrastructure, technology and food imports meant to further their countries' ties. China has invested billions of dollars in Egyptian state projects, with combined investments totalling $16.6 billion in 2023.

Also at the forum are Tunisia's President Kais Saied, Emirati President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Bahrain King Hamad. The China-Arab States Cooperation Forum was established in 2004 as a formal dialogue mechanism between China and Arab states.

China is Tunisia's fourth-largest trading partner after Germany, Italy and France. Beijing has financed hospitals and sports complexes in Tunisia, and its companies have been contracted to build strategic infrastructure such as bridges and deep-water Mediterranean ports. The UAE also has expansive, growing economic ties with China and has faced US criticism for an alleged Chinese military facility being built in Abu Dhabi.

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | China helping Pakistan in boosting defence capabilities near Jammu and Kashmir for last 3 years: Report

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