From May 5th to 10th, both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited China. By receiving leaders of both countries, China’s new leadership demonstrated their attention to
Leave Room for China in the Middle East Peace Process
Resolution of the Middle East question has been delayed for over half a century, exerting protracted influence on peace, stability and development in the region and the world at large. With massive political turbulence in some Arab countries in recent years, the Middle East peace process was marginalized. However, the Palestinian question remains a core concern of the Arab and Islamic world. Since the beginning of this year, the international community has given renewed attention to promoting the peace process.
China has continuously supported Palestinian nation-building and made unswerving effort towards a just solution to the Palestinian question. Since taking office, the new leadership has set its eyes on the Middle East with peace through diplomacy on their minds. Chinese leaders believe that the world will not gain tranquility until the Middle East enjoys peace. Restoring peace through negotiation should be the strategic choice of both Palestine (and the Arab world) and Israel. With this in mind, China invited the two leaders to China and took the opportunity to advocate peace talks between them.
As this year marks the 20th anniversary of the Oslo Accord, China put forth a four-point proposal. It expressed the hope that Palestine and Israel would commit themselves to peace through negotiation. The proposal lays out a plan for independent Palestinian statehood and peaceful coexistence with Israel. It endorses internationally recognized principles such as “land for peace” and respects the right to survival and security. The four-point proposal demonstrates a sincere desire for an early resumption of the peace process and comprehensive peace in that region. Both Palestine and Israel expressed appreciation for the Chinese efforts, welcomed a greater Chinese role and wished for an early resumption of peace talks. As to the timing and conditions of negotiation resumption, there is still difference between the two sides but both have shown certain flexibility.
The question of whether China’s high-profile involvement in the Middle East peace process would challenge the dominant position of the US and cause concern, rests in a conventional zero-sum mindset and should not be of concern. It is the international community’s shared desire to push Palestine and Israel towards early resumption of negotiation and peace. While various parties are making efforts towards this end, the US indeed plays a more notable role.
Shortly after taking office during his first term, President Obama visited the Middle East and announced his intention to improve relations with the Islamic world by helping resolve the Palestinian question. Since then, four years have passed with no progress and drastic changes have shook the Middle East. The first visit of Obama’s second term was to Israel and Palestine. Within two months in office, Secretary of State John Kerry visited three times, meeting with President Abbas five times and promising to produce a plan for peace in two months. All of these actions testify to the sense of urgency on the part of the US. However, the Middle East question is indeed too complicated for a single mediator, with intertwined disagreements and problems. Furthermore, as Israel’s strategic ally, the US faces many restraints in its regional policies and Palestinians do not feel assured to fully trust the US. As a result, despite the United States’ irreplaceable and dominant role, it cannot act alone.
Chinese and American efforts can actually run parallel without conflict. Upon proposal by the US, the Middle East question was incorporated into the China-US strategic dialogue mechanism last year and has thus become an important aspect of their coordination and cooperation. During his visit to China, Secretary Kerry talked about the Middle East question with Chinese leaders and expressed hope for more communication and coordination with China. He particularly hoped that China would work on the Palestinian side, including by helping with economic development as a foundation for peace. Peace and stability is a shared wish of people in the Middle East and serves both world peace and development. It is also in the interest of China and the US to cooperate in this region, leading by example to promote peace.
Wu Sike is a member on the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and member on the Foreign Policy Consulting Committee of the Ministry of Foreign Affair.