April 25, 2024
World Economy

Global Impact: what does China’s response to the Israel-Gaza war and Red Sea crisis say about its position as a world power?


That position has been firmly held by Beijing as the war stretches on, with tens of thousands killed.

It was the case when China’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, met with Norwegian foreign minister Espen Barth Eide in Beijing earlier this month, with both sides calling for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza and an increase in humanitarian assistance.

“All parties need to work together to prevent the conflict from spilling over, and [we] call for the immediate release of all detained persons,” said a statement on the meeting from China’s foreign ministry.

China can achieve that, they said, by first condemning the Hamas militant group – something Beijing has avoided – and using its leverage over Iran to prevent a spillover.

“Israel definitely expects a more balanced position from China,” said Efraim Inbar, professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, adding that Beijing’s approach has “clearly estranged” Israel.

There’s more that China could possibly do.

03:21

US-led coalition strikes Iran-backed Houthi fighters in Yemen

US-led coalition strikes Iran-backed Houthi fighters in Yemen

“Beijing enjoys excellent relations with the two sides of the conflict, with almost all of the relevant regional players and international players,” said Nidal Foqaha, director of the West Bank-based Palestinian Peace Coalition-Geneva Initiative.

This month, Wu Sike, China’s former special envoy for Middle East affairs, said China should nurture friendly ties with regional countries and stressed the need to advance the peace process. Spillovers from the armed conflict, he said at a forum, posed a serious threat to regional security.

And there has already been a spillover – in the Red Sea, a crucial maritime corridor.

In what was a response towards Israel’s military operation in Gaza, Yemen-based Houthi rebels began attacking commercial vessels with drones and missiles, particularly targeting Israeli ships or those heading to Israel.

The attacks were met with a fierce response from the United States, as it banded together a group of countries to launch multiple attacks on Houthi targets in Yemen.

Yet again, there were global expectations that Beijing would tap into its influence to urge Iran to rein in the Houthis, as they are believed to have been supported and trained by Tehran.

04:53

‘We survived’: Thai hostages celebrate their release by Hamas

‘We survived’: Thai hostages celebrate their release by Hamas

Analysts reasoned that China’s reluctance to get more involved in quelling the Red Sea attacks could be because Chinese vessels have not been thoroughly threatened, even though some shipping firms have suspended transits through the affected areas.

Beijing has also used the conflict to flag Washington’s failure in the region.

“The situation in the Red Sea has exposed China in its real size: economically very significant in the region, yet a far stretch from actually being a world power,” said Ori Sela, an associate professor at Tel Aviv University.

03:02

Xi Jinping calls for Gaza ceasefire, says two-state solution only option for lasting regional peace

Xi Jinping calls for Gaza ceasefire, says two-state solution only option for lasting regional peace

Is there a chance that things could change? Some progress has been seen recently.

While official statements from both sides left out discussions over the Red Sea, Chinese officials have reportedly pressed Iran to rein in the Houthis “or risk harming business relations with Beijing”.

It remains to be seen if China’s diplomatic efforts will suffice. But one thing is for sure: China’s response to the conflicts, and what it does next, will continue to be closely examined as it seeks to establish itself as a world power.

60-Second Catch-up

Deep dives

Photo: Reuters

Great power lite? Why China is reluctant to wade into the Red Sea crisis

  • Beijing has called for an end to the attacks on the ships and expressed concern over the escalating situation

  • But it is unlikely to play a bigger role in resolving the conflict, affecting its global standing, analysts say

The rebel group says the action is in response to the Israel-Gaza war and it is only targeting Israeli-linked vessels or those heading to Israel.
Illustration: Henry Wong

Could China play a role in brokering Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution?

  • Beijing is long-time proponent of plan for independent Palestine to coexist with Israel – an idea that has seen renewed enthusiasm in the West

  • While China’s influence is rising in Middle East, analysts are divided on whether it has leverage to become key player in peace process alongside US

Chinese President Xi Jinping said last month that a “two-state solution” was the fundamental way out from “the cycle of conflicts” between Israel and Palestinians.

Xi’s remarks, made during an online Brics summit on the Israel-Gaza war last month, reiterated China’s long-held position that Palestine should become an independent state, and its people should enjoy the right of “nationhood, life and return”.
Illustration: Lau Ka-kuen

Has China ‘clearly estranged Israel’ with its stance on the war in Gaza?

  • China’s diplomatic efforts to stop the war appear to largely revolve around influencing Middle Eastern nations other than Israel

  • Even while seen as having some diplomatic sway with Iran, China does not seem willing or able to use its influence to affect the conflict, say analysts

In the past month or so China has stepped away from the sidelines of the Israel-Gaza war and towards the fray.
Photo: EPA-EFE

Firms eye Plan B ahead of Lunar New Year as Red Sea crisis roils supply chains

  • Average rate during the second week of January for shipping a 40-foot container between Europe and China was about US$5,400, up from US$1,500 a week earlier

  • Demand for containers in China has increased ahead of the Lunar New Year, with firms seeking to avoid the Red Sea following recent attacks by Houthi militants

Shipping prices between Europe and China have continued to soar amid the Red Sea crisis, weighing on China’s fragile export growth and pushing its companies to seek contingency plans to fortify their supply chains ahead of the Lunar New Year.

The average rate for the second week of January was about US$5,400 for a 40-foot container, up from US$1,500 a week earlier, according to Container xChange, an online platform for container logistics and operations in Germany.

Photo: Reuters

‘Prices are soaring’: Red Sea attacks push up China-Europe container rates

  • Inquiries about the China-Europe Railway Express have increased significantly since Houthi militants began targeting vessels navigating the Red Sea

  • Ships face an extra 10 days at sea if they divert via the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa instead of the more direct route through Egypt’s Suez Canal

As global shipping giants are forced to divert container ships via the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa in the wake of attacks by the Houthi militants in the Red Sea, shipping prices between China and Europe have shot up amid concerns over supply chain disruptions.

“The price of the Mediterranean route is soaring now,” said Xia Xiaoqiang, a Tianjin-based freight forwarder.

Global Impact is a weekly curated newsletter featuring a news topic originating in China with a significant macro impact for our newsreaders around the world.



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