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Politics & Law

Why the China-Israel relation matters in the Middle East


Foreign ministers in Vienna on July 6, in the absence of Washington, attempt to negotiate a viable framework to uphold the Iran Deal (Reuters Photo via Newsweek)

The mainstream explanations for the European powers’ attempt to keep the Iran nuclear deal alive despite the US’ withdrawal, including the worry of pushing Iran to Russia and China, economic consideration, hope for moderating the theological regime, prevention of nuclear weapon production, wish for Washington’s comeback with a non-Trump presidency and etc, all make sense.

Whatever, it seems China would gain certain benefits from such a rare opportunity of co-working politically with Germany, France and the UK as a team without the presence of the United States. Why don’t they mind?

On July 10, four days after the Vienna ministerial meeting for the Iran deal “in the absence of Washington”, Beijing hosted the 8th ministerial meeting of the ‘China-Arab States Cooperation Forum’ at which, according to a Palestinian press, “Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged $15 million to Palestine”.

There are at least four points to note. Firstly, as a Persian country, Iran was not in the Forum.

Secondly, if compared to the much more sophisticated US-Arab relationship (for example, take a look at the 26-year-old ‘National Council on U.S. – Arab Relations’), the Forum is relatively young and weak. Its growth needs lots of time and efforts in future.

Thirdly, most Arabic countries, with oil and money, are financially self-sufficient. For hi-tech, they buy from the US. For luxury products or magnificent architecture, they buy from Europe. The trade and economic benefits earned from China’s Belt and Road Initiative are not relevant to survival or growth to the extent similar to other Third World countries. What they need are actually two effective political solutions, one for Palestine, and another for Iran (e.g. the tension in Yemen between Saudi and Iran).

Fourthly, as seen in Syria, it is Russia, not China, participating in the real battles. It is very unlikely that China will send troops or jet fighters there even if, say, there is a Saudi-Iran war or an Israel-Iran war.

So, what are China’s role and, pragmatically speaking, ‘use’ in the Middle East to the Mideast nations on one hand, and the European powers on the other?

It is about Israel. If there is a country that the Jews can trust in next to the USA, it is China. “When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Shanghai in May 2013 and hailed the city’s role as a “haven” for Jewish people fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe in the 1930s and 40s, his comments highlighted a part of the city’s history that many contemporary residents don’t know. Today, few would guess that this quintessentially Chinese city once played host to a bustling community of over 20,000 Jews.”

This “Shanghai Ghetto” story is very simple, and of course, combined with other historical and cultural happenings, all these stories do not mean that China can stop or prevent Israel from taking drastic political or military actions whenever and wherever necessary. However, if there were something unpleasant about to happen, China would perhaps be the last resort for acting as a ‘bridge’ for meaningful communication between the US-backed Israel and other parties concerned. Therefore, all the Europeans, Americans, Persians, Arabians, and Russians do not mind having the Chinese presence in the Middle East.

The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of China Daily Mail.

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About keith K C Hui

Keith K C Hui is a Chinese University of Hong Kong graduate major in Government and Public Administration and the author of "Helmsman Ruler: China's Pragmatic Version of Plato's Ideal Political Succession System In The Republic" (2013).

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