What China wants from Israel-Hamas war

By Tessa Wong

Asia Digital Reporter, BBC News

As the conflict between Israel and Hamas intensifies, an unlikely development has emerged – China playing the part of peace broker. But there are limits to what it can achieve.

China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, discussed the conflict with officials in Washington at the weekend amid fears of a bigger regional war. The US has pledged it would work with China on trying to find a resolution.

Mr Wang has also spoken to his Israeli and Palestinian counterparts after China’s Middle East special envoy Zhai Jun flew to the region to meet Arab leaders. It has also been one of the most vocal proponents of a ceasefire in UN meetings.

There are hopes China could tap into its close relationship with Iran, which backs Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, to de-escalate the situation. US officials apparently pressed Mr Wang to “urge calm” with the Iranians, reported the Financial Times.

China is Iran’s biggest trade partner, and earlier this year Beijing brokered a rare détente between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Tehran says it “stands ready to strengthen communication with China” on resolving the situation in Gaza.

As the Chinese government has had a relatively balanced relationship with all actors in the conflict, they could be perceived as an honest broker, said Dawn Murphy, an associate professor who studies Chinese foreign policy at the National War College under the US Department of Defense.

In particular, China has positive relations with the Palestinians, Arabs, Turkey and Iran, she said. “Together with the US which has good relations with Israel, they could bring all of the players to the table.”

But other observers point out that China remains a minor player in Middle East politics.

“China is not a serious actor on this issue. Talking to people around the region, nobody expects China to contribute to the solution,” said Jonathan Fulton, a non-resident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council who specialises in China’s relations with the Middle East.

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