By Liu Zhongmin
For the past two decades, the US was the dominant power in the Middle East. Since the “Arab Spring” – a string of uprisings across the region, which first started in Tunisia, the US has reflected on the possibility that its decline in power might be rooted in the Iraq war. Its commitment to the Middle East has dwindled since then, but it has posed more challenges to Washington – while the US is reluctant to invest more in the Middle East, it still wants to maintain its leadership in the region. Later, the US made profits by selling arms to the Middle East and became increasingly utilitarian.
The Quartet, comprised of the EU, Russia, the UN and the US as the main parties to facilitate the Middle East peace process negotiations, has become almost paralyzed because American unilateralism has made it difficult to resolve the Israel-Palestine issue.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is partly the remaining mess of the Trump era. Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has almost overturned the basic international consensus on the issue.
It is worth mentioning that the Resolution 242(1967) of the UN, which acknowledges the claim of sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the region, is the basis for settling the Israel-Palestine conflict. China also supports the establishment of an independent State of Palestine that enjoys full sovereignty on the basis of this resolution. China has no intention to compete with the US in the Middle East.
On many international issues, China is increasingly engaged or willing to play a constructive role, but not to challenge anyone. China’s activities in the Middle East are more about economic and trade development, such as energy supply, industrialization and the promotion of the Belt and Road Initiative.
However, China’s involvement in the region is not to fill any voids in the Middle East left by the US. Beijing is fully aware that if it participates in Middle East affairs with competitive or geopolitical purposes, it will be detrimental to the stability of the region, which will also harm China’s interests.
Washington now has little room to mediate a peaceful resolution of the conflicts in the Middle East. And President Joe Biden knows very well that Washington will face pressure from all sides as long as the Middle East issue is included in a multilateral mechanism like the UN. Washington is no longer capable of leading the solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict, nor does it have a solid plan in place. Therefore, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to the region, which started on Tuesday, has only limited effects.
China plays mostly a role of persuasion and peacemaking in solving the issue between Palestine and Israel. It has established friendly relations with many Arab countries, including the establishment of an “innovative and comprehensive partnership” with Israel, and a long-standing friendship with Palestine. In this way, it is able to speak to both Israel and Palestine. On May 17, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi put forth a four-point proposal for peace with the current Israel-Palestine conflict.
With its ability to deal with all sides, China has a clear advantage in engaging the solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict. Historically it was not involved in any dispute in the Middle East. Nor does it favor Israel as the US does. It does not have the “historical liability” of colonialism and hegemony.
China has a long history of friendship with all parties in the Middle East, which provides a good basis for it to exert its power as a member of the international community. In March, China and Iran signed a 25-year agreement to enhance comprehensive cooperation in a range of fields including trade. China also has gained some experience in dealing with international issues after its involvement in hotspot issues, such as Sudan and Afghanistan.
Beijing still has room to cooperate with Washington on the Middle East issue, and the core measure to end the conflict is through multilateralism under the UN framework. As Washington engages less and less in Middle East affairs, some Western media outlets are trying to create this narrative: China’s involvement in solving the Afghanistan issue and the Palestine-Israel conflict is aimed at competing with the US. This is a trap we should be wary of.
–The Daily Mail-Global Times News Exchange Item