China Strategic Brief - issue 4This article is taken from the August edition of our monthly China Strategic Brief publication, produced in association with our partners China Policy. See below for more details on how to download this edition for free or receive the past editions of this publication.

The Middle East took centre stage during what former Middle East envoy Wu Sike called the ‘midsummer China–Arab diplomacy week’. There were visits from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the foreign and defence ministers from Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Although China is unlikely to resolve the Gulf crisis, these diplomatic efforts are indicative of Beijing’s growing level of engagement with regional affairs. China urges restraint, mutual respect and non-interference by all sides. It supports a solution within the framework of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and has praised Kuwait’s mediation efforts.

Xi Jinping used Abbas’ visit to highlight his four-point plan for Palestine and Israel, which includes:

> advancing a two-state solution with 1967 borders;
> upholding a comprehensive security concept;
> coordinating international peace efforts; and
> promoting peace through development and bilateral cooperation, preferably through Belt & Road.

This embodies China’s hope, also present in other areas, that economic development can ultimately overcome the political obstacles. Some commentators stress that this emphasis on development sets China apart as the true force for peace, as opposed to a more self interested and hegemonic US. They also highlight that China has good ties with Middle Eastern countries on all sides.

China frequently expresses its political support for the Palestinian cause at similar occasions, but so far this has not been translated into concrete actions. China’s economic ties with Palestine are very limited with a 14.4% fall in bilateral trade from 2015 to only US$60 million in 2016. Observers say that this is mostly because of a lack of funds, safety issues and Israeli restrictions. Ties with Israel are, however, booming and were upgraded to an ‘innovative comprehensive partnership’ after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to China in March.

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