Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has won a “strategic partnership” with China resulting from his four-day trip this week to Beijing, the first since his visit in 2017 and his fifth to the huge Asian nation.
“The fundamental solution to the Palestinian issue lies in the establishment of an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital . . . We have always firmly supported the just cause of the Palestinian people to restore their legitimate national rights,” Chinese President Xi Jinping told Abbas on Wednesday at a welcoming ceremony in Beijing.
It’s not the first time Xi has expressed those views. China, one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, was among the first to recognize a “State of Palestine” and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) terrorist group as legitimate entities.
China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang held separate calls in April 2023 with his Israeli and Palestinian Authority counterparts, telling both that his nation stands ready to help rejuvenate the moribund peace talks stalled since 2014.
But China is hardly an objective player; Beijing has emphasized its support for the so-called “two state solution” since as far back as 1989, advocating for a return to the 1967 lines with half of Jerusalem handed over to the Palestinian Authority for a new capital.
Abbas and Xi announced at a joint news conference that the two sides had also signed a number of bilateral cooperation documents.
Included were an economic and technological cooperation pact, a deal on mutual visa exemption for diplomatic passports, and a friendship agreement between the city of Wuhan and the Palestinian Authority capital city of Ramallah.
Similar agreements were signed between the two sides during a visit by Abbas to Beijing in May 2013.
In a separate meeting with his PA counterpart, Riyad al-Maliki, China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang also offered to provide “Chinese wisdom” to the “Palestinian issue.”
Beijing has already used its “Chinese wisdom” to broker a landmark rapprochement this past March between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
China’s Relationship with Israel
Although China has expanded its ties with the State of Israel over the past 20 years, especially in the economic sector, the relationship has not been smooth.
China is Israel’s second-largest trading partner by country after the United States, with the value of trade increasing last year by 11.6% to $24.45 billion. Israel’s exports to China in 2022 were valued at $4.68 billion, second to the United States. (The European Union is Israel’s largest trading partner.)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Xi in Beijing on March 12, 2017, where the two announced a “comprehensive innovation partnership” between China and Israel. One year later, China’s then-Vice President Wang Qishan arrived in Israel for a four-day visit that focused on economic cooperation.
In recent years, Chinese companies have been involved in upgrading Israeli ports and in building infrastructure such as the Tel Aviv light rail, the Middle East Institute noted in a paper last year.
Most of the projects were associated with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Although China invested in Israel before the BRI was launched, “the BRI provided the conceptual framework and brought Chinese government financial and diplomatic support into the picture,” MEI’s Galia Lavi wrote.
Does Israel Have a China Problem?
“One cannot assume that China would act against Israeli interests. However, if the bilateral relationship were to sharply deteriorate, this eventuality cannot be ruled out,” MEI warned.
“China might also, whether purposefully or unwittingly, provide an enemy of Israel vital information that could be used to cripple the country’s infrastructure — a possibility that, however remote, must be taken seriously.”
Nor have Israel’s ties with China slowed down Beijing from showing its public support for the Palestinian Authority in the international arena.
China has been vocal and consistent about its support for the Palestinian Authority’s attempts to force Israel back to the indefensible borders of 1967.
In December 2022, China voted in favor of a resolution at the UN General Assembly calling on the International Court of Justice in The Hague to provide an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of the Israeli ‘occupation’ in the Palestinian Authority territories.
The question is, did Abbas and Xi come to any other, quiet agreements during their talks this week in Beijing?