By Lee Wing Tim
China’s foreign minister has said Israel’s military action in Gaza in the wake of attacks by Hamas militants “goes beyond self-defense” and called for an end to the “collective punishment” of Palestinians as Beijing said it would send an envoy to try to ease the crisis.
“China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi says Israel’s strategy has gone beyond self-defense – and it must cease its collective punishment of the people of Gaza,” Beijing’s international broadcaster CGTN reported on Sunday.
“In a phone call with his Saudi counterpart Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, Wang said all parties should refrain from actions that escalate the situation, and return to the negotiating table as soon as possible,” the report said.
Meanwhile, China will send special envoy Zhai Jun to the Middle East this week in a bid to build international consensus, “cool down the situation and create necessary conditions for political settlement,” a foreign ministry spokesperson said on Monday.
Wang had earlier called in a news conference on Saturday for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, and for Israel to open up channels for humanitarian aid and the rescue of Palestinian civilians trapped in the enclave.
Thousands of people, both Israeli and Palestinian, have died since Oct. 7, after Palestinian Hamas militants entered and bombarded Israel in a surprise attack leading Israel to declare war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip enclave, where 2 million people live.
“The first [priority] is to stop the fighting as soon as possible, prevent it from spreading endlessly and avoid further deterioration of the situation,” Wang told a joint news conference with High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell at the weekend.
“Second, it is imperative to observe the international humanitarian law, make every effort to ensure the safety of civilians, open up a humanitarian rescue and assistance passage as quickly as possible, and prevent a severe humanitarian disaster,” Wang said.
Israeli forces kept up their bombardment of Gaza on Monday after diplomatic attempts at brokering a ceasefire allowing foreign nationals to leave and humanitarian aid to enter the Hamas-run territory broke down.
Overnight air strikes were the heaviest yet as the conflict entered its 10th day, with many buildings flattened and yet more people trapped under rubble, Gaza residents told Reuters, while Israeli officials have also issued multiple warnings of Hamas rocket fire into Israel.
Wang, who also called for an international peace conference brokered by the United Nations, said on Saturday that China backs a two-state solution with an independent Palestine, which he said would also contribute to “lasting security” for Israel.
He called for an immediate cease-fire and the resumption of peace talks “as soon as possible.”
Wang described the question of Palestine as “a wound that keeps being torn open,” blaming “a long delay in realizing the dream of an independent state of Palestine and the failure to redress the historical injustice suffered by the Palestinian people.”
“Israel has the right to statehood, so does Palestine,” Wang said. “The Israelis can safeguard their survival, but who will care about the survival of the Palestinians?”
“The Jewish nation is no longer homeless in the world, but when will the Palestinian nation return to its home?” Wang said. “There is no shortage of injustices in the world, but the injustice to Palestine has dragged on for over half a century.”
Blinken calls on China
Wang’s comments came after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on China, a partner of Iran, to use its influence to push for calm in the Middle East, amid fears that violence will spread.
Blinken had a “productive” one-hour telephone call with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said on Saturday.
“He thought it could be useful if China could use its influence,” Miller told reporters on Blinken’s plane from Riyadh to Abu Dhabi.
China’s official statements on the conflict have not specifically named Hamas in their condemnations of violence, leading to criticism from some Western officials who said they were too weak, Reuters reported.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning confirmed on Monday that four Chinese nationals have been killed in the latest Israel-Palestinian conflict, with two missing and six injured.
“Relevant Chinese diplomatic institutions are doing everything they can to coordinate efforts to save lives and treat the injured, and make proper arrangements for the deceased,” Mao said.
“They have been urging relevant parties to do everything needed for the search and rescue of missing Chinese and take every effective step to keep Chinese nationals and institutions safe,” she said, adding that commercial flights between China and Israel are still in operation.
“We advise local Chinese nationals to fly back to China on commercial flights as soon as possible,” Mao said.