The world “must act urgently” to stem the conflict in Gaza, China’s top diplomat said Monday during a meeting of officials from Arab and Muslim-majority nations, as Beijing steps up its efforts to play a role in establishing a cease-fire in Israel- Hamas. conflict.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi welcomed colleagues from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, the Palestinian National Authority and Indonesia as well as the head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation for a two-day visit to the Chinese capital, the start of the delegation’s expected tour of several world capitals.
“The international community must act urgently and take effective measures to prevent this tragedy from spreading. China stands firm with justice and fairness in this conflict,” Wang told the visiting leaders in opening remarks ahead of the talks, echoing China’s call for an immediate ceasefire.
Visiting ministers voiced their own strong calls for an end to the conflict, with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud saying: “The message is clear: the war must stop immediately, we must go to a ceasefire immediately, and auxiliary materials and the aid must come in immediately.”
Countries represented in the delegation hoped to cooperate with China and “all countries” that are “responsible and appreciate the seriousness of the situation,” he said.
Israel has launched weeks of bombardment and ground operations in the Hamas-ruled enclave of Gaza following a deadly attack on its territory by the group on October 7. More than 200 hostages were taken in that attack, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
The meeting in Beijing comes as sources tell CNN that a possible deal to secure the release of some hostages held by Hamas and a several-day pause in the fighting could be in sight after weeks of talks between the US, Israel and the militant group. mediated by the Gulf State of Qatar.
Beijing has been at odds with Washington – an Israeli ally and long a major power broker in the region – over its approach to the conflict, including when it comes to an immediate ceasefire, which Washington does not support. Beijing has also criticized Israel’s retaliation and failed to condemn Hamas or name the group in its statements, prompting backlash from Israeli officials.
“Israel should stop its collective punishment of the people of Gaza and open a humanitarian corridor as soon as possible to prevent a larger-scale humanitarian crisis from occurring,” Wang was quoted as telling the delegation during the talks, according to a readout from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China.
Israel has staunchly defended its actions as rooting out terrorism after a “barbaric invasion” and has rejected any ceasefire without the return of hostages.
China has sought to play an active role in finding a solution to the conflict as it seeks to expand its position as a major global power.
Beijing sent a peace envoy on a tour of several countries in the region last month and has acted as a strong voice pushing for an immediate ceasefire at the United Nations, including the Security Council, where China now holds the rotating presidency.
Last week, the UN body adopted its first resolution on the conflict, which called for the immediate release of all hostages held by Hamas and for expanded humanitarian corridors throughout the enclave to protect civilians. The United States and the United Kingdom abstained, citing the resolution’s failure to condemn Hamas.
“For reasons known to all, especially the repeated and persistent obstruction by a permanent member of the Council, at this time this resolution can only serve as a first step based on minimum consensus,” Chinese Ambassador Zhang Jun said after the vote in an apparently veiled jab against the United States.
In his comments on Monday in Beijing, Saudi Arabia’s minister praised the Security Council’s decision under China’s leadership.
The conflict has also given China an opportunity to strengthen its already strengthened ties with a number of countries across the Arab world – a region where observers say it hopes to drive a wedge between the US and countries with which it has longstanding ties .
“We have always resolutely defended the legitimate rights and interests of the Arab and Muslim countries, and have always strongly supported the Palestinian people’s efforts to restore their legitimate national rights and interests,” Wang told the visiting delegation.
Immediate ceasefire and long-term peace were also key topics during a roughly 10-day tour of the Middle East last month by China’s special envoy for the region, Zhai Jun, who visited Egypt, Qatar, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, according to China’s Foreign Ministry.
Last week, the envoy visited and met with officials in Turkey and Bahrain, where Zhai also discussed the “regional situation” with representatives from Singapore, the United States and Europe on the sidelines of an international conference.
So far, there have been no visible concrete results from diplomacy.
Zhai’s itinerary has so far also not included stops in Israel, Palestinian-controlled territories or Iran, according to information released by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Wang spoke with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen by phone last month. It is not clear whether China has been in contact with Hamas officials during the latest conflict.
Visiting officials in Beijing this week include Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki of the Palestinian National Authority, based in the West Bank.
China earlier this month sent the head of its foreign ministry’s West Asian and North African affairs department to Iran, where the conflict was part of the discussions, according to a post on the department’s WeChat social media account.
Iran is a long-time supporter of both Hamas and Lebanon-based Hezbollah.
During hours-long talks between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden in California last week, Biden urged Xi to use China’s leverage with Iran to warn against a broader regional escalation, a senior US official told CNN.
During the talks, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said they had already held discussions with the Iranians on the issue, the senior official said.
Biden also made it clear to Xi that he viewed Hamas as separate from the Palestinians. The United States considers Hamas a terrorist organization that has perpetuated the suffering of the Palestinian people and upheld Israel’s right to retaliate against the group.
Beijing has not referred to Hamas in its statements, instead framing the current situation as a Palestinian-Israeli conflict.