Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas accomplished a great deal on his 4-day visit to Beijing, including a Chinese agreement to try to bring Palestine into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, if the other members agree. Chinese President Xi Jinping and he announced on Tuesday a strategic partnership. Some months ago Foreign Minister Qin Gang expressed an interest in having China host peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians to bring their 75-year-old conflict to a just and peaceful end. China recognized Palestine as an independent state in 1988 and is one of over 80 nations in the world to have done so.
China’s diplomatic moves with Middle Eastern powers are being closely watched after it pulled off the coup of negotiating the return of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran this spring.
Xi pointed out that Abbas was the first Arab leader to visit Beijing this year, in the wake of his reelection as president by the Chinese Communist Party, which underlined the importance of Sino-Palestinian relations.He and Abbas went on to announce a strategic partnership between China and Palestine, saying, “The Chinese side is keen to seize this opportunity to enhance in a comprehensive manner friendly cooperation with the Palestinian side in various fields.” For his part, Abbas pledged to make Palestine part of China’s One Belt and Road infrastructure project for Asia.
The previous week, Beijing had hosted the Chinese-Arab Business Forum, where the Saudi foreign minister announced that China had become the Arab world’s biggest trading partner, with trade worth $430 billion per year. Much of that trade is Chinese purchase of petroleum and LNG fossil gas from the region.
The US does not import very much petroleum from the Middle East any more, producing two-thirds of oil consumed by Americans itself through hydraulic fracturing, and importing most to the shortfall from Canada and Mexico. Hydraulic fracturing is banned in states such as New York, since it is environmentally catastrophic and leaves behind highly polluted pools of water.
Conor Mycroft at the South China Morning Post points out that while China only does $158 million annually in trade with Palestine, its trade with Israel every year amounts to $21 billion. Still, China gives aid to Palestinians and is going to build some roads on the West Bank, and many of its Middle Eastern trading partners, including Iran, no doubt pressure Beijing to offer more practical support to the Palestinians.
China’s increasing trade with the Arab world and Israel may be one of the impetuses for it to become more involved in Middle East diplomacy.
The Egyptian “Evening News” reported on Beijing’s commitments to Palestine as announced in a joint statement after the meeting between Abbas and Xi.
- China expressed its unfaltering backing for the establishment of an independent and fully sovereign state of Palestine on the basis of 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
- Beijing also supported the historical understandings that constitute the “status quo” agreements about the holy places of Jerusalem.
- China supports the full membership of Palestine in the United Nations. (At the moment it is a non-state observer, in the same category as the Vatican.)
- China wants to see the achievement of Palestinian internal unity (i.e. ending the faction-fighting between Hamas and the PLO).
- China supports a two-state solution through peace negotiations with Israel on the basis of “land for peace” and UN Security Council resolutions.
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