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NIAS China Reader
China: Palestine Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ visit emphasizes hope for statehood

  CR Team
Avishka Ashok

What happened?
On 13 June, the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas landed in Beijing for a four-day state visit, becoming the first Arab leader to be hosted by China this year. 

On 14 June, China’s President Xi Jinping met with President Mahmoud Abbas and upgraded the countries’ bilateral relations to a strategic partnership. Xi said: “China will seize this opportunity to work with Palestine to advance bilateral friendship and cooperation in all areas.” 

Xi also put forth a three-point proposal to settle the Palestinian Statehood question. The proposal calls for establishing an independent state of Palestine, meeting the economic and livelihood needs of the Palestinian people and keeping the right direction of peace talks. On the issue, Xi said: “China stands ready to play a positive role to assist Palestine in achieving internal reconciliation and promote peace talks.”

What is the background?
First, China’s relations with Palestine. China claims to be one of the first countries to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the State of Palestine. In 1965, the PLO set up an office in Beijing which was treated as a diplomatic mission. Later in 1988, China established bilateral diplomatic relations with Palestine. China and Palestine are now celebrating 35 years of diplomatic relations. During Xi Jinping’s visit to Saudi Arabia in December 2022, he met with Mahmoud Abbas and pledged to work towards an early, just and durable solution to the issue of statehood for Palestine. During the pandemic, China assisted Palestine in constructing over 40 projects, such as schools and roads, and sent medical supplies, expert teams and vaccines. China has also pledged to donate USD 1 million to the Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. 

Second, China’s growing role in the Middle East. In December 2022, President Xi Jinping visited Saudi Arabia for the first China-Arab States Summit and claimed that the visit would usher in a new era of China-Arab relations. In the landmark visit, Xi promised Chinese investments and collaborations in multiple projects spanning education, transportation, infrastructure, green energy, oil and gas trade, and other new areas of cooperation. Xi also participated in the China-Saudi-GCC Summit for Cooperation and Development, where he proposed buying petroleum products in yuan, the Chinese currency, instead of the US dollar. 

Third, China’s role as a mediator. In assuming the identity of a global superpower, the Communist Party of China has been pushing the country to take up more responsibilities as a mediator and play a role in conflict resolution. In March, in a deal brokered by China, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed to re-establish diplomatic relations and reopen their embassies. In June 2022, China established its first special envoy to the Horn of Africa,, tasked with offering mediation in regional disputes. In February, China called for a peaceful settlement of the Russia-Ukraine conflict through a 12-point proposal and has been offering to mediate since the inception of the war.

What does it mean?
First, the Palestine Authority President’s growing proximity to China proves that the US is losing its foothold in the issue and the region. On the other hand, China is more than eager to take up the vacant space left behind by the US in its desire to establish itself as a global superpower. 

Second, China’s previous feat of brokering Iran-Saudi Arabia relations may have revived the hopes for Palestine to receive help on the issue of Statehood. However, similar results may be harder to achieve due to Israel’s hold on the issue and the complexity of creating a new state in the current global landscape. The visit may, therefore, heighten President Xi’s standing within the country and the international community but may not present a diplomatic breakthrough between Israel and Palestine.
 


News from around the World 
Regional Roundups

East and Southeast Asia This Week
Japan: Military aid for the Philippines to safeguard Taiwan's western flank
On 17 June, Nikkei CNBC reported that Japan is arranging to provide military assistance to the Philippines, aiming to enhance security cooperation and protect sea routes while safeguarding Taiwan's western side. This move deepens their security ties and marks the potential return of Japanese forces to the region for the first time since World War II. As it shifts away from its pacifist stance, Tokyo expresses concerns that the Philippines may be a vulnerable link in the island chain connecting Japan to Indonesia, which is crucial for ships travelling to and from the Pacific Ocean. Japanese military officials are particularly worried about a potential Chinese attack on Taiwan and the subsequent risk of a wider conflict. To address this, Tokyo plans to offer military aid, including radars, to the Philippines to strengthen its defence capabilities and fill existing gaps. Japan drives the aid initiative, although the US is providing advice due to its close military relationship with the Philippines.

South Korea: Arrival of US nuclear-powered submarine 
On 16 June, the Japan Times reported that a US nuclear-powered guided-missile submarine made its first visit to South Korea in nearly six years following North Korea's launch of two ballistic missiles into Japan's exclusive economic zone. The USS Michigan submarine, weighing 18,000 tons and capable of carrying Tomahawk cruise missiles, arrived at a naval base in Busan as part of the US commitment to increase the visibility of strategic assets on the Korean Peninsula. This visit, agreed upon in the Washington Declaration signed by South Korean leader Yoon Suk-yeol and US President Joe Biden, showcases the strength of the South Korea-US alliance. The visit will include joint special operations drills to enhance the allies' response capabilities against North Korean threats. North Korea's missile launches, the first to enter Japan's exclusive economic zone since mid-February, have raised tensions, prompting Japan to lodge a strong protest. South Korea, in the meantime, successfully retrieved a portion of a failed North Korean rocket from the seabed after complex salvage operations.

South Korea: Placed on Tier 2 on trafficking
On 16 June, the Korea Times reported that according to the annual trafficking in persons report published by the US Department of State, South Korea had been classified as Tier 2 due to inadequate efforts to prevent trafficking crimes and protect victims. Although the country is making significant efforts, it has not fully met the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking. South Korea was downgraded to Tier 2 last year for the first time in 20 years. The report recommends that South Korea align its definition of trafficking with international treaties and protocols. It also urges the government to increase efforts in investigating and prosecuting traffickers, particularly those involved in labour trafficking. Additionally, the report emphasizes the need for consistent screening for trafficking victims among vulnerable populations. In contrast, North Korea has been placed in the lowest category, Tier 3, as the government has not demonstrated any efforts to address human trafficking and is involved in state-sponsored forced labour. The report also highlights the vulnerability of North Korean defectors in China to trafficking.

Indonesia: Strengthening military relations with the US through Cope West 2023
On 14 June, Antara news reported that Indonesia and the US are conducting the Cope West 2023 joint air combat exercise at Roesmin Nurjadin Air Base in Pekanbaru to strengthen military ties. The opening ceremony was led by the heads of the Indonesian Air Force and US PACAF delegations. The exercise aims to promote understanding and enhance the capabilities and professionalism of personnel from both air forces. The event includes F-16 fighters and features the Military-to-Military Connection Direct Action Ground Reconnaissance (M2MC DAGR), where both militaries share experiences in various combat scenarios. Cope West, held for the 10th time, signifies the countries' commitment to regional stability in Southeast Asia.

Vietnam: Conducting first-ever national census on gender equality 
On 12 June, Viet Nam News reported that Vietnam is going to conduct its first-ever nationwide census on gender equality, in 2023. It will be conducted to assess the state of gender equality for sustainable development. A symposium revealed that the survey would encompass 9,000 individuals residing in 48 communes and wards across 12 provinces and cities in Vietnam. Vietnamese Vice President of the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences (VASS), Dr. Đặng Xuân Thanh, emphasized the nation's commitment to gender equality and the implementation of relevant policies. 

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