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China's reconciliation efforts in the Middle East

China's reconciliation efforts in the Middle East
8 May 2024 19:21

By: Noura Nasser Alhebsi

China has been increasingly active in its diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, aiming to mediate regional conflicts and promote stability. Its recent initiatives include hosting meetings between representatives of Fatah and Hamas to promote Palestinian reconciliation, a longstanding issue that has not been resolved in spite of previous Arab and international efforts.

This diplomatic push is closely aligned with China's support for Palestine at the United Nations; it has notably backed the Palestinian bid for full UN membership, standing in contrast to the United States' opposition and use of the veto in the UN Security Council.However, China's involvement in Palestinian reconciliation faces significant challenges. Previous mediation attempts by Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Türkiye, and Russia have all failed since the 2007-armed clashes between Fatah and Hamas, underscoring the complexity of the issue.

China's approach to Palestinian reconciliation can be viewed differently from past efforts; Beijing has successfully mediated in the Middle East before, notably between Iran and Saudi Arabia in March 2023. During this period, Saudi Arabia sought more independent relations with the West, and China was instrumental in initially overcoming differences between Riyadh and Tehran, leveraging its economic ties to facilitate dialogue.

Recognising the complexities of achieving Palestinian reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, especially given the involvement of regional and international powers, China sees success in this area as an investment in its role as a global peacemaker, especially since it previously succeeded in this region and is mediating a solution to the crisis in Ukraine.

China's historical ties with Middle Eastern countries have positioned it as a significant mediator in the region, advocating for stability and cooperation, in contrast to Western approaches that often come with conditions that Middle Eastern countries are reluctant to accept. As the region seeks development, China's diplomatic efforts offer a path to enhancing regional peace.

Working on the principle of non-interference in internal affairs, China recognises the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank as the legitimate government but still maintains communications with Hamas and has refrained from condemning it for the attack on Israel on October 7, 2023. This stance makes China an acceptable mediator, as it maintains good relations with all Palestinian sides.

Beijing is unlikely to achieve rapid, tangible progress in the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, even though it appears that both parties are willing to engage in dialogue and reconciliation.

Palestinian reconciliation requires efforts that may take a long time to resolve conflicts and differences regarding Palestinian interests. However, China is demonstrating a commitment to mediation diplomacy to play a more active role in international affairs in terms of promoting peace, stability, and development. 

Mediation in regional conflicts is a means for enhancing economic interests in the Middle East, especially since the region is a source of energy and a major consumer of Chinese goods, and instability hinders trade and investment between China and Middle East countries. Given its past successes and ability to pave the way for a peaceful solution to the Palestinian issue, China's efforts are viewed with optimism, especially as Western powers are now active parties, rather than neutral ones, in the conflict.

*The writer is a researcher at TRENDS Research & Advisory

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