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China, the US, and the Escalating Israeli-Gaza Conflict

Feb 05, 2024

The Israeli-Gaza conflict is a complex and multifaceted geopolitical challenge requiring global stakeholders to implement pragmatic approaches that consider evolving regional dynamics and shifting geopolitical realities.

Although the U.S. has attempted to contain the conflict, it has ultimately failed to prevent Israeli escalations. Further, the war in Gaza has only become a segment of a broader geopolitical struggle against various superpowers and their clients across the international arena. The U.S. and China both react in accordance to broader strategic interests.

China's diplomatic mission, including in the Israeli-Gaza conflict, is part of a broader strategy to challenge and reshape the current U.S.-dominated world order towards a more multipolar structure, where China has a more significant global influence. Most of this is for good reason since the U.S. has been destabilizing the Middle East for the better part of the last 30 years.

Since the outbreak of war in Israel and the horrific attacks of October 7, 2023, China maintained its commitment to a two-state solution, but has equally focused on undermining the United States and discrediting it as a moral global hegemon. This has manifested as Beijing criticizing Israel for the bombing of Gaza without serious regard for civilian life. Beijing has also worked to actively maintain positive relations with Muslim and Arab countries.

However, China’s official ‘neutrality’ during the war in Israel serves as a consistent critique of the United States and how Washington continues to run global affairs. For example, China has repeatedly criticized America’s ‘leadership’ in NATO, especially after the bombings of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) in 1999, and the 2011 military intervention in Libya. Beijing has also been outspoken over the U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and has openly criticized the United States for its ‘meddling’ in conflicts like Ukraine. The same can be said for the war in Israel. Therefore, Chinese neutrality reinforces the global criticism of most, if not all, U.S.-led military interventions.

China’s criticism of U.S.-led operations fits nicely with Beijing’s global ambitions of accelerating the international shift towards multipolarity. When a nation criticizes the U.S., in any capacity, it often criticizes the U.S. dollar and its supremacy, the U.S. sanctions regime, and the dishonest instrumentalization of ‘human rights’ and multilateral institutions to benefit U.S. interests.

In the context of Gaza, a human rights court cannot seriously indict President Putin in Russia over Ukraine without bringing similar charges to Prime Minister Netanyahu. The current realities of geopolitics are rapidly revealing inconsistencies and double standards under the U.S.-led order. Although the war in Ukraine divided much of the world in terms of sentiment, the war in Gaza has prompted much more support for the Palestinians than for the Israeli, and Tel Aviv has for the most part lost the public relations war against the Palestinians. 

Some analysts criticize Beijing for being vague in its foreign policy, but fail to realize that the vagueness in fact reinforces the need to criticize U.S. unilateralism in general. American ambassadors around the world engage in meddling in the internal affairs of countries and have occupied many countries diplomatically. The most recent episode of this approach has been implemented in Serbia where U.S. ambassador Christopher Hill influenced the campaign cycle, and pressured Belgrade during negotiations with the breakaway province of Kosovo. Hence, the generalness of criticizing U.S. policy should really be interpreted as a comprehensive opposition to U.S. hegemony when manifested within the immediate backyard of its adversaries like in Ukraine or the Taiwan Strait.

There are also economic implications to all of this as the U.S. continues to destabilize regions where China has invested significant sums of money. The Middle East is one concrete example, where Syria and Iraq are regularly destabilized, while former Chinese allies like Italy have withdrawn their Belt and Road Initiative membership due to pressure from the United States. Ironically, Rome’s move, came coincidently before October 7, 2023 but could significantly reinforce the argument for an East-Med pipeline and trade route to effectively cut Europe off from Russian gas for good, while simultaneously limiting the potential impacts of a functioning BRI that planned to connect Europe with much of the Middle East.

China must remain active in the diplomatic arena in order to safeguard its interests now and in the future. Beijing retains the support of the Arab and Muslim countries, just as Russia has, when considering strategic challenges like Taiwan, the Xinjiang province, and Beijing’s overall approach to global governance. The camp for multipolarity, led by China and Russia, has plenty of examples of U.S. failures in foreign policy to cite as reasons for the shift to a more balanced world order. Any significant escalation in the Middle East, regardless if it is directly or indirectly incited by Israel or a neighbor, will largely be the reasonability of the United States. Neither China nor Russia prefer additional chaos in the Middle East and China currently has at least one million citizens working in the Middle East, as well as billions of dollars in investments, which require stability.

In short, the conflict in Gaza could evolve, especially since Israel has reacted swiftly and indiscriminately. One scenario is increased diplomatic engagement led by countries like Egypt or Turkey, potentially calming tensions. Further escalations could occur if global powers intensify involvement, leading to a more significant regional conflict. The role of the U.S. and China is pivotal in shaping these outcomes, and while China already supports more balanced developments, Washington should take notes and implement a diplomatic solution that considers the needs of all peoples and communities. 

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