Sat. Jun 22nd, 2024

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reiterated that Israel must protect civilians even as it defends itself, while also telling his Palestinian counterpart that China “deeply sympathizes” with the difficulties his people face. 

“Every country has the right to self-defense but should abide by international humanitarian law and protect civilians,” Wang told Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen in a telephone call Monday, according to a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry. “It is imperative to prevent further escalation of the situation that could lead to a worse humanitarian catastrophe.”

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In a separate call, Wang told Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki that China “deeply sympathizes with the difficult situation of the Palestinian side, especially the people of Gaza.” He added that his nation would continue to provide humanitarian help to Gazans.

The calls mark the highest-level communication China has publicly acknowledged with both Israeli and Palestinian officials since the attack on Oct. 7 that Hamas launched. China has refrained from condemning Hamas, whose incursion killed 1,400 people, many of them civilians.

Read More: How China Could Play a Key Role in the Israel-Hamas War—and Why It’s Not

Israel responded with air strikes on Gaza that have killed thousands, and concern has mounted among leaders around the world that the conflict may spread. Earlier this month, in a phone call with Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat, Wang said that Israel’s actions “have gone beyond self-defense.” He called on the nation to heed the call of the United Nations and international community “to stop its collective punishment of the people in Gaza,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported. Chinese President Xi Jinping has also called for an immediate cease-fire.

In an interview with Bloomberg Television last week, the U.S.’s top diplomat in China, Nicholas Burns, called on Xi’s government to denounce terrorism by Hamas, citing Beijing’s stance toward the group as yet another challenge in fraught ties between the world’s biggest economies.

The crisis in Gaza is likely to be on the agenda when Wang makes an expected visit to Washington this week for high-level meetings. Wang will be in Washington Thursday to Saturday and will meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, according to senior Biden administration officials.

They said the meeting was part of efforts to responsibly manage U.S.-China relations, which have worsened over issues including spying, Taiwan and technology. They also declined to say whether it would lay the groundwork for a meeting between Biden and Xi at a summit in San Francisco next month.

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U.S. congressional leaders confronted Xi earlier this month over his country’s failure to condemn Hamas and show support for those killed in Israel. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer asked China to stand with Israel and condemn the attacks, hours after he blasted Wang for showing “no sympathy or support for Israel during these tough, troubled times.”

China later said it condemns actions that harm civilians and that it’s willing to work with the international community toward peace talks. The U.S. and Europe have designated Hamas as a terrorist group.

Xi earlier this year sought to play global peacemaker, proposing a ceasefire in Ukraine and helping long-time rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran reach a diplomatic truce. He later proposed an Israel-Palestine peace conference.

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