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China walks fine line of neutrality amid Israel-Hamas war

By Jake Beardslee · October 28, 2023

In brief…

  • China remains neutral in the Israel-Hamas conflict, aiming to mediate and act as a counterweight to the U.S. in the Middle East.
  • Beijing officially calls for calm and a halt to hostilities but has faced criticism for a perceived muted response.
  • China's economic ties with Israel and Arab states, valued at $259 billion last year, motivate its efforts to prevent conflict escalation.
President of China, Xi Xinping. China is maintaining a cautious neutrality in the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict despite its ambitions to be a peacemaker in Middle East disputes.  Dominique A. Pineiro, U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class / Wikimedia

China has remained neutral in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. As a key economic partner to countries on both sides, Beijing had hoped to position itself as a potential mediator and counterweight to the U.S. in resolving Middle East conflicts. However, just months after helping broker a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the latest clashes in Gaza are testing China’s ambitions.

Officially, China has called for calm and urged both sides to end hostilities. Critics say its response has been muted. According to Foreign Policy, Beijing wants to avoid taking sides, calculating that neutrality best serves its long-term regional interests. China has condemned attacks on civilians by both Israel and Hamas. It also advocates a two-state solution.

China has strong economic ties with Israel and Arab states. Its trade with the region totaled $259 billion last year. As such, Beijing does not want the conflict to escalate and draw in other powers. Its neutral stance also bolsters its image with developing countries sympathetic to Palestinians. According to analysts, China is signaling it wants to partner with the U.S. on resolving thorny issues like this, rather than replace the West.