China’s foreign minister Wang Yi continued his Middle East tour this week, stopping in Egypt to call for an immediate ceasefire and lasting peace between Israel and Hamas amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza. His comments come as Hamas aired a video showing two Israeli hostages it has held captive, saying it will soon disclose their fate.
China Reiterates Support for Palestinian Statehood, Calls for Peace Conference
Speaking during his visit to Cairo on Sunday, Wang urged both sides to exercise maximum restraint and put an end to the fighting that has killed hundreds and displaced thousands over the past few months.
“China is willing to continue to play a constructive role to this end,” Wang said, proposing an international peace conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with China ready to provide necessary support on that front.
Wang also reiterated China’s longstanding support for an independent Palestinian state based on 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital. This echoes statements made by China at the UN last week condemning Israeli military strikes in Gaza and calling for a ceasefire.
Experts see China’s more vocal stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as both a bid to boost its diplomatic clout in the region as well as serve its strategic interests:
“China is leveraging the turbulence to advance its geopolitical ambitions,” said Jonathan Fulton, a professor in China-Middle East relations at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. “It is making sure that it is seen as an important and indispensable actor that can play a role in trying to bring stability to a volatile situation.”
Hamas Airs Video of Israeli Hostages, Vows to Disclose Their Fate
Also over the weekend, the Palestinian militant group Hamas aired a video showing two Israeli hostages it has held since the summer of 2022. The two are believed to be Israeli civilians who crossed into Gaza separately and have been held for over 500 days.
Hamas said it will “soon disclose” the fate of the hostages, without providing further details. The group had previously demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for information about the captives.
Israel denounced the video broadcast, with its Foreign Ministry tweeting: “Hamas’s exploitation of civilians to promote terror is appalling.” Israeli officials reportedly assessed that one of the two appeared unharmed in the video, while the condition of the second was unclear.
This latest development has added urgency to ceasefire negotiations, with China and others hoping to secure the hostages’ release. Wang called on Hamas to disclose their fate and whereabouts during his Egypt visit.
China Looks to Bolsters Role as Mediator Amid Crisis
China’s foreign minister arrived in Egypt after stops in Saudi Arabia and Turkey, as Beijing looks to expand its role as a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
The ongoing fighting has dragged on for over 100 days with no end in sight. Despite repeated attempts by Egypt and others to broker a ceasefire, clashes have continued.
“China has enough leverage on all conflict parties to credibly present itself as an acceptable mediator,” said Tongfi Kim, an international relations expert at Vesalius College in Brussels.
Some analysts say China is well positioned to play a bigger part in future peace talks given its neutrality and clout in the region. However, others argue China lacks the trust and influence with Israel that America enjoys.
|China does not have official ties with Israel but has sought to strengthen economic and tech relations in recent years. Some Israelis remain skeptical of China’s mounting support for Palestinians.
|China enjoys good relations with the PA and provides development aid. It has grown more vocal in supporting Palestinian statehood demands.
|China does not officially recognize Hamas, which it considers a radical group. But some experts say it maintains unofficial backchannels.
“The reality is the U.S. is the only outside power trusted by both Israelis and Palestinians to mediate negotiations,” said Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment.
Ultimately, most observers believe a solution will require both American and international backing. “China can play a complementary role to U.S. mediation efforts,” Miller said.
Regional Response Mixed on China’s Calls for Ceasefire
Reaction in the region to China’s proposals has been mixed so far. The Palestinian Authority welcomed Wang’s comments made in Egypt. Yet there has been less enthusiasm from Israel.
“Israel hears China’s call for direct negotiations between the two sides, but is focused on pressing matters like neutralizing terror tunnels,” said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Eitan Weiss.
Meanwhile, Hamas said it is open to China playing a mediating role, but that any durable ceasefire must address core issues like lifting the blockade on Gaza.
Other countries in the region offered qualified support, but some experts detect reluctance to embrace China as peace broker:
“There is hesitation among Arab states to fully endorse China’s role due to the importance of U.S. security guarantees,” said Jasmine El-Gamal, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council.
Russia also warned against excluding the Quartet (U.N., U.S., Russia, E.U.) from future peace talks after China floated the idea of a conference without them.
Israel and Hamas Trade Blows as Calls for Restraint Continue
Despite growing calls for calm, both sides continue to trade attacks while defending their military actions as justified. Hamas has launched near-daily rocket attacks, wounding dozens in southern Israel over the weekend. Meanwhile, Israel has carried out more airstrikes in Gaza after warning of a “heavy price” for Hamas aggression.
The recent turmoil has ignited violent confrontations in the occupied West Bank as well. Israeli forces killed 10 Palestinians on Friday during a raid in Jenin prompted by fears of a major imminent attack on Israelis.
With tensions still boiling over 100 days into the conflict, experts say a mutual de-escalation is essential before more sustainable ceasefire talks can take hold:
“The situation on the ground needs to stabilize in order for fruitful negotiations to have any chance of success,” said Gilead Sher, an Israeli former peace negotiator. “It will take time to create conditions conducive to talks.”
In the meantime, China and others are pushing both sides to exercise restraint and commit to a temporary truce, if not a lasting peace for now. How much progress China can make on that front remains to be seen.
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