In order to understand China’s policies toward Palestine, the Middle East, and the term “Chinese Dream” (coined by the current leadership to refer to China’s aspiration to regain its status as a powerful and respected internationally recognized country), one has to understand the imperialistic invasions of China — from the Opium Wars in 1840, through the Boxer Uprising in 1900, and the Japanese invasion from 1931 to 1945. The “Century of Humiliation” continues to determine much of China’s foreign policy.
China’s multiple vetoes at the United Nations Security Council against military intervention in Syria is in accordance with the country’s principle of not intervening in the internal affairs of other nations. For China, helping the Syrian regime stand up to the West is about preventing the imminent invasion and division of Syria. China was trying to prevent in Syria a reoccurrence of what had recently happened in Libya after the fall of Muammar Gadhafi. The intervention of Western powers brings back painful memories in China of Western military powers taking control of a weak nation and toppling its government. Ultimately, China’s support of Syria reflects its pride as an awakening power demanding to be treated with the same respect it received before the 1800s.
In the case of the Palestinian–Israeli conflict, while the United States tilts toward protecting Israel’s interests, China tilts toward the Arab side. From the Chinese perspective, the State of Israel was established by allying with the imperial powers of that time, first with the British, then with the Soviet Union, and finally with the United States. China also favors the Palestinians because the Arab countries offered international support to China in the 1960s and 1970s after the Bandung Conference, when China was isolated by the animosity of the West.
Today, the United States remains the controlling power in the Middle East, and, for the most part, China is willing to cede that power in order to secure some stability in the region. However, the status quo is becoming more and more costly for both countries. American influence in the region is diminishing. And, over the past decade, there has been an exponential increase in public and private sector investments between China and all Middle Eastern countries, including Israel. In order for bilateral trade to continue, regional stability in the Middle East is essential. To that end, China is now exploring options for a more proactive role. “Constructive participation,” a concept coined by the Shanghai Center for Middle Eastern Peace Studies, is one such attempt to engage as a trade partner and a facilitator of stability. Along that line, China recently invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for state visits. Collaborating closely with the Russians about Syria is another way to play a larger role in the region. These initial steps are testing how the United States and other Western countries will react. If there is not push back, China will engage further. So far, China has seen modest success in helping (through the United Nations) to halt the invasion of Syria, solve (along with Russia) the chemical weapon problem, and search for a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict.
Despite any successes, though, China can only play a significant role as a broker of peace after she redresses her fraught history with Japan. Decades of animosity and hurt continue between the two countries. And, while Chinese President Xi Jinping can easily rally the masses on a platform of anti-Japanese sentiment, his real challenge is to sit down with the Japanese and to persuade both peoples to heal the wounds of war and historical hatred for the sake of a brighter future between the two neighbors. Strong leadership and good intentions are needed, as well as a vibrant public media campaign and international support. Only then can China confidently move forward to play a role as a global peacemaker — and specifically as a peacemaker between the Israelis and Palestinians. Only then can China help the Israelis and Palestinians put aside their fixations on the Holocaust and Nakba, diffuse the hatreds of each side, and move toward a sustainable peace settlement.email print