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China and Russia plan to work together for a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians

Beijing sent a special envoy to the Middle East to push for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in the latest sign of its ambition to play a larger role in the region

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting at the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, China, October 18, 2023.SPUTNIK (via REUTERS)

China and Russia share the same position on the Palestinian issue and plan to try to work together to cool the situation and help establish a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians, a top Chinese envoy said Friday. Zhai Jun, China’s special envoy to the Middle East, spoke after a meeting Thursday in Qatar with Mikhail Bogdanov, the Russian president’s special representative for the Middle East and Africa.

“The fundamental reason for the current situation of the Palestine-Israel conflict is that the Palestinian people’s lawful national rights have not been guaranteed,” Zhai said, according to a statement released on Friday by the Chinese foreign ministry. “China and Russia have the same position on the Palestine question, and China is ready to maintain communication and coordination with Russia to promote de-escalation of the situation,” Zhai said.

The two countries want to “play a positive role in resuming talks for peace between Palestine and Israel, truly implementing the two-state solution, and promoting a comprehensive, just and enduring solution to the Palestinian question at an early date,” Zhai said. China sent Zhai to the Middle East to push for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in the latest sign of its ambition to play a larger role in the region.

The two sides confirmed their “unwavering focus on closely coordinating efforts for the political settlement of this and other crises in the Middle East and North Africa region,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said, according to the country’s Tass state news agency.

China, which sees the U.S. as too pro-Israel, has said it opposes attacks on civilians, but hasn’t condemned the initial Hamas attack that started the latest war. Instead, it has called for an immediate cease-fire to protect civilians as Israel bombards Gaza before a possible ground invasion. “We believe that when dealing with hot spot issues in the international community, major powers should be objective and impartial,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said Friday.

In his meeting with Bogdanov, Zhai said Beijing was saddened by “a great number of civilian casualties caused by the Palestine-Israel conflict and the sharp deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Palestine.”

Beijing describes Hamas as a “resistance movement,” not as a terrorist group as Israel and other countries do. Analysts say that China wants to position itself as a mediator and exert its influence in the region as the U.S. shifts its global attention elsewhere. But the latest Gaza war has drawn the U.S. back in, with President Joe Biden visiting Israel this week.

Zhai also met with Qatar’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Mohammed Abdulaziz al-Khulaifi, the Chinese foreign ministry said. Mao, the Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said that Zhai would travel to other Middle Eastern countries, but she didn’t give any further details.

Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly told Chinese leader Xi Jinping this week that “Egypt and other Arab countries highly appreciate China’s consistent and just position on the Palestinian question and expect China to play a bigger role in solving the current crisis,” according to a Chinese statement on their meeting.

Xi told Madbouly, who was in Beijing to attend a forum on China’s Belt and Road infrastructure-building initiative, that the top priority is to stop the fighting and prevent it from causing a severe humanitarian crisis.

He said China “stands ready to strengthen coordination with Egypt and other Arab countries to work for a comprehensive, just and enduring solution to the Palestinian question,” the Chinese statement said.

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