China Coordinates Middle East Strategy As Xi Jinping Visits APEC and Is To Meet Biden
The Middle East & Ukraine on trial as a Putin-emboldened Xi Jinping is set to meet the US President
China and Russia are strengthening their strategic partnership in the Middle East, which helps counterbalance the United States in the region. The countries share the opinion that the cause of the Israel-Palestine conflict was not the Hamas terrorist attacks, but an inability to guarantee the rights of the Palestinian people.
On October 18 this year, when US President Biden visited Israel, a high-level forum was held in Beijing to mark the 10th anniversary of the Chinese Belt & Road Initiative. In numerous photos, Russian President Vladimir Putin stands next to President Xi Jinping. The latter paved the way for Putin to return to the international arena, as the Russian President was not able to travel to major events abroad after the West introduced a warrant for his arrest. In addition to Xi Jinping, Putin also held individual meetings in Beijing with the leaders of eight other countries.
In his speech at the same forum, the Russian President unveiled plans to connect Russia to the Belt & Road Initiative.
In terms of Russia-China connectivity, in addition to the already existing Indian Ocean Sea Routes, (via both Suez and Vladivostok) from next year, the Arctic Ocean Northern Sea Route (NSR) will be operated year-round. The Trans-Siberian Railway is being expanded to include a north-south route connecting the NSR with China and other countries. On the eve of Putin’s visit to Beijing, mutual visa-free group tourist trips between China and Russia were resumed. Although Russia is generally wary of Chinese expansion into Siberia, in light of the new international environment it has clearly strengthened its resolve to live within China’s orbit.
In a map published in late August, Beijing showed as its own territory the entire island of Greater Ussuri, which China and Russia agreed to divide equally into east and west parts in 2004. At present, Russia cannot raise any objections on this matter. The island has strategic importance at the mouth of the Amur and Ussuri Rivers.
However, China is not a bad partner for Russia. Xi and Putin completed their speeches at the forum in the morning and held a three-hour summit in the afternoon, during which Xi Jinping addressed Putin as “my old friend.” Is there any other country today that treats the Russian president so generously?
So, what was discussed at the Sino-Russian summit? The most important topics appear to have been the rapidly changing situation around Palestine and strategic cooperation between China and Russia with an eye toward the United States.
Both leaders focused on economic policy in their speeches at the forum. According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, economic and multilateral cooperation issues, including the expansion of BRICS, were discussed at the summit. However, shortly afterwards, at a press conference, Putin said that he had discussed Ukraine and Gaza issues in detail with Xi Jinping. It is believed that both sides are coordinating their global strategies to deal with these two critical issues.
Immediately after these discussions, on October 19, China’s international activity in the Middle East became more pronounced. Xi met with the Egyptian prime minister and advocated a solution to the Palestine problem through a “two-state plan” that would make Palestine independent, as well as increase Beijing’s cooperation with Arab countries. China’s Special Envoy for the Middle East, Zhai Junyi and Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov held talks in Doha (Qatar). According to China’s State media outlet Xinhua, the root cause of the conflict is not Hamas’ terrorist attacks, but the failure to guarantee the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people, and that China is working with Russia to resolve the issue. China expressed its intention to join Russia’s active position in proposing a UN resolution on the Gaza issue.
Meanwhile, Xi Jinping is attending the APEC 2023 forum, which has just begun and is being held in San Francisco. He is due to meet the US President on Wednesday (November 15). Will Beijing find it necessary to compromise with the United States?
In fact, the Xi administration is now moving in exactly the opposite direction. The Gaza issue has many important political aspects not only for Russia, but also for China’s global strategy. Unlike the military conflict in Ukraine, where the West supports the supposedly weak side, in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict the United States firmly supports Israel, which is considered a strong party in the Middle East. However, for the Arab world, Israel is a symbol of colonialism imposed on the Palestinians by the West, which was unable to resolve the Jewish question on its own. Moreover, opposition to Israel, which has been roundly criticized for killing Palestinian civilians in Gaza, is increasingly spreading to many developing countries. There is a growing sense in the global south that the United States is losing moral conscience.
Overall, the Middle East has recently become a key location in China’s global strategy. The Belt & Road Initiative has generally been well received in Central Asia and Africa. If China can effectively penetrate the Middle East and promote the BRI in the region, it will be able to connect its two most important zones of influence. This would allow China to divide the Western sphere of influence into zones in Europe and the Indo-Pacific region.
China would like to see much more active cooperation with oil-producing countries in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, which are strengthening their autonomy vis-à-vis the United States. In addition, it is encouraging for Beijing that Russia has recently been increasing its presence in West Africa.
However, there is a certain amount of irony in the fact that China, which strongly claims that Taiwan is part of China, advocates Palestinian independence. There is a possibility that the United States will use this example to criticize China as having double standards. The United States has said it will treat Russia as a full participant at the APEC summit, with the Russian delegation being lead by Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Overchuk. “He’s being treated as the head of delegation, and he’ll have the opportunity to participate fully in the week’s events,” Matt Murray, the State Department official in charge of APEC, has stated. Overchuk is under a variety of Western sanctions including from the European Union but is not specifically under US sanctions.
That said, the Russian position as concerns the Middle East appears already set in stone and aligned with China’s. Xi’s diplomacy and ingenuity in dealing with US President Biden therefore remains the key event.