Explaining Beijing’s Shift from Active to Passive Engagement in Relation to the Arab-Israeli Conflict

In: Sociology of Islam

As a ‘rising power’, China is expected to play a greater global role. But current Chinese involvement in the long-running and internationalised Arab-Israeli conflict is limited. How to explain this? What does it suggest about China’s regional and global role? Studying Beijing’s involvement since the 1950s, I note Chinese military assistance to the Palestinians during the 1960s-70s and strong criticism of Israel. But from the 1980s Beijing adopted a more diplomatic approach and endorsed the two-state solution. The change was due to China’s broader regional and international relations. During the Cold War Beijing’s ‘active’ pro-Palestinian stance was associated with being ‘outside’ the superpower-dominated international system. By the end of the Cold War Beijing was ‘inside’ the international system and increasingly integrated into the global economy. Commercial considerations trumped political ones, emphasising diplomacy. This suggests China’s exercise of global power may be more nuanced and less overt than otherwise assumed.

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