Abbas seeks out Chinese support for Palestine

China pledges support for Palestine, but keeps the door open to Israel
5 min read
19 July, 2017
Analysis: China has historically been a friend of Palestine, but its economic initiatives require increasing cooperation with Israel, writes Daoud Kuttab.
Palestinians have grown skeptical of foreign promises of financial support [AFP]
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas' four day official visit to China that began on Monday of this week focused largely on economic cooperation and relations between the two states.

Speaking on Palestinian TV, the deputy head of the Chinese mission to Palestine said that China and Palestine signed four agreements that include support to the Palestinian foreign ministry, human resources training, and cultural and economic cooperation agreements.

One of the projects that China will be supporting in Palestine is the building of the Tarqomia Industrial Zone, west of Hebron. President Abbas called on his Chinese counterpart to include projects that support alternative energy in Tarqomia.

Abbas also appealed to the Chinese to add Palestine to their list of tourist destinations. China is one of the most populous nations in the world, contributing to tourism revenues worldwide.

President Abbas promised to do all he can to overcome any bureaucratic obstacles that impede Chinese tourists visiting Palestine. Abbas, who said that China has supported the Palestinian revolution since its launch in 1965, understands the importance of peace in the Middle East, and that for peace to take root the Palestinian conflict must be resolved.

He noted that what is happening now is an attempt to turn the conflict into a religious war; something Palestine is fundamentally opposed to. 
The visit aims to seal China's support for Palestinian issues in international forums, especially in light of the continued US bias towards Israel
President Abbas was given a formal welcome and at the end of the ceremony, and Abbas honoured the Chinese president with the highest Palestinian honour on Tuesday. 

The visit aims to seal China's support for Palestinian issues in international forums, especially in light of the continued US bias towards Israel.

Social media has been buzzing with criticism of Abbas in recent days, due to his absence at a time of escalating tension in Jerusalem. Many have called on him to cut short his visit and return to Palestine.

While China is a permanent UN Security Council member that continues to support the Palestinian cause, it appears its relations with the US and Israel have slightly tempered the previously passionate support for the Palestinian cause.

In a recent incident that is said to have caught the Chinese public off guard, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for limiting diplomatic relations with China and other states that supported UN Security Council Resolution No. 2334, which denounced Israeli settlements in "Palestinian territory… including East Jerusalem".

The Israeli Embassy in China quickly reassured Chinese media that cooperation between China and Israel would not be affected by Netanyahu's decision.

The Chinese administration has continued its relations with both Israel and the Arab States, and the Chinese Communist Party has supported the Middle East peace process and the Oslo agreements in principle. Both Yasser Arafat and his successor Mahmoud Abbas have visited the People's Republic of China (PRC) on several occasions.

After the 2006 victory of Hamas - a Palestinian militant group that favours the restoration of historical Palestine in the 2006 Palestinian elections - the PRC refused to designate the group a "terrorist organisation" and saw them as the elected representatives of the Palestinian People.

China's representative to the UN in Geneva, Ma Zhaoxu also strongly condemned Israel and urged it to seriously implement the UN Security Council resolutions and to improve the situation in the Gaza Strip by lifting the blockade.

China has also supported Palestinian statehood. On 29 November 2012, it voted in favour of UN General Assembly Resolution 67/19 to give Palestine non-member observer state status in the United Nations.

In response to the violence during the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, the PRC foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said: "We believe that to resort to force and to counter violence with violence will not help resolve problems other than pile up more hatred.

"We urge relevant parties to bear in mind the broader picture of peace and the lives of the people, immediately realise a ceasefire, stick to the strategic choice of peace talks and strive for an early resumption of talks."

President Xi Jinping reasserted in 2016 China's support for "the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital being eastern Jerusalem" in a meeting with the Arab League. He also announced an aid project of 50 million yuan ($7.6 million) for a solar power stations in the Palestinian territories.

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi called the lack of "an independent [Palestinian] state with full sovereignty" a "terrible injustice" in an April 2017 meeting with Palestinian foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki.
China's moral philosophy and the necessity of strengthening its "soft power" in Arab states also push Beijing to support and help Palestine in the international arena
For China, pragmatic interests and the "One Belt, One Road" initiative require increasing cooperation with Israel. Yet China's moral philosophy and the necessity of strengthening its "soft power" in Arab states also push Beijing to support and help Palestine in the international arena.

Given the tense relationship between Israel and Palestine, China needs to more carefully maintain its "neutral" role and avoid excessive support for either side.

As an economic powerhouse, China can provide Palestinians with loan guarantees, direct support as well as improved and preferred trade deals. The huge disparity in the two economies means it would be easy for China to make some gestures towards Palestine which would undoubtedly help it in its dealings with the Arab and Muslim world.

This is why for example the Chinese insisted on a very public welcome for Abbas, bringing out the red carpet for him during his four day visit.

For the Palestinian leadership, the visit to China is both politically and economically strategic, though it is not yet clear how valuable it will be. People in Palestine have become very skeptical of foreign promises of financial support, preferring to witness change for themselves before passing judgment.

Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. 

Follow him on Twitter: @daoudkuttab

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.