July 19, 2024

China Exploits Israel-Hamas Conflict to Diminish US Global Influence, Analysts Say

China Exploits Israel-Hamas Conflict to Diminish US Global Influence, Analysts Say

China Exploits Israel-Hamas Conflict to Diminish US Global Influence, Analysts Say

By Christy Lee
13 October 2023

Beijing is likely to use the Israel-Hamas war to try to diminish Washington’s global influence while boosting its own, said analysts.

China has been bitterly attacking the U.S. on its state media over the conflict raging in the Middle East, saying Washington’s one-sided military support for Israel is fueling tensions and increasing the humanitarian crisis in the region.

“If Washington really wants to mediate the crisis, it should sit both sides down for negotiations, instead of sending warships to the Middle East to boost Israel’s morale,” said a Chinese expert quoted Thursday by the Global Times, one of Beijing’s official news outlets.

Dennis Wilder, who served as National Security Council director from 2004-05 during the George W. Bush administration, said, “China is regrettably using the crisis to reinforce its domestic propaganda that paints the United States as supporting an Israel that has denied the Palestinian people their right to their own state.”

David Satterfield, director of Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, said, “China is endlessly opportunistic, by which I mean, it seeks occasions, places, opportunities to advance the perception of its global reach, in particular, its desire to be seen as an ally, a partner, a friend of what we might call the Global South.”

Satterfield, who served as acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs from 2017-19 during the Trump administration, continued, “China does quite a good job of this in a theatrical sense, in an optical sense.”

But in reality, he said, “in this conflict, and I would say in the Middle East more broadly, it has very, very little influence.”

Satterfield said China’s policy focus on nonintervention “catches Beijing in a box, if you will. The Chinese can’t become a meaningful player because they’re fearful if they take a real stance as opposed to rhetorical positions on this, [it] could someday come home to affect them.”

At the daily Chinese Foreign Ministry press briefing on Thursday, spokesperson Wang Wenbin called for both sides in the Gaza crisis to put an “end to the violence, condemn actions against civilians,” and “avoid further escalation.”

He did not condemn Hamas by name and said Beijing stands ready to talk and coordinate with the Arab League to bring a peace process in the Middle East.

The Arab League is a loose alliance of nearly two dozen Arab countries that have pledged to cooperate on economic and military affairs and other matters, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

China’s President Xi Jinping has largely remained silent on the issue, but Beijing’s diplomats have been talking to other countries about the crisis.

Zhai Jun, China’s special envoy for the Middle East since 2019, spoke with Osama Khedr, Egypt’s assistant foreign minister responsible for the Palestine department, on the phone Tuesday offering to promote a cease-fire and end violence.

At the Friday press briefing, Wang Wenbin said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi discussed the conflict with Celso Luiz Nunes Amorim, chief adviser to the Brazilian president, on the phone the previous day.

VOA’s Korean Service contacted the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Friday to ask why it has not condemned Hamas for its murderous attacks that started the conflict while criticizing Washington’s support for Israel. The ministry did not reply.

Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at SOAS University of London, said, “By refusing to condemn Hamas, China signals that it is on the side of the Global South, but how much good it will do to China in cementing support in the Global South is questionable.”

Tuvia Gering, researcher for the Diane and Guilford Glazer Israel-China Policy Center at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said, “China will do everything it can to avoid being drawn into this, maintaining its fake neutrality.”

With fighting in the Middle East and Ukraine, there are concerns among U.S. allies in Asia that Washington’s attention may move away from the Indo-Pacific, leaving an opening that China could attempt to exploit.

On Thursday, the release of the final report of the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the U.S. highlighted the need for Washington to prepare to deter and defeat multiple adversaries such as China, Iran, North Korea and Russia simultaneously in the period from 2027 to 2035.

“Today’s strategic outlook requires an urgent national focus and a series of concerted actions not currently planned,” the report says.

At a NATO meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the U.S. is “able to project power and direct resources to tackle crises in multiple theaters” simultaneously and support both Israel and Ukraine.

Grant Rumley, the Goldberger Fellow with the Washington Institute’s Diane and Guilford Glazer Foundation Program on Great Power Competition and the Middle East, said, “It’s crucial for the U.S. to show Beijing it is able to support Israel as well as Ukraine and Taiwan simultaneously.”

Some analysts say the Gaza crisis could work to America’s advantage in its rivalry with China.

“More American diplomatic attention to the Middle East and core conflicts there likely would diminish the space where China could insert itself diplomatically,” said Robert Ford, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington who served as ambassador to Algeria from 2006-08 and as ambassador to Syria from 2011-14.

Mark Kennedy, director of the Wilson Center’s Wahba Institute for Strategic Competition who served as U.S. congressman representing Minnesota from 2001-07, said, “Depending how the tragic Israeli-Hamas conflict plays out, it could actually enhance American standing in its strategic competition with China.”

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