GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 697, 18 June 2023

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

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