The recent Hamas attack on Israel, with indirect financial support tied to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), raises questions about China’s positioning in the Middle East. It also highlights the ongoing significance of international backing for nations such as Taiwan, Israel and Ukraine.
Last week, as the world witnessed Hamas terrorists targeting Israeli civilians, Beijing surprised the international community with an official statement that omitted any condemnation of the attack. During a visit to Beijing, a delegation of US lawmakers expressed their disappointment with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) failure to stand with Israel, a stance taken by most of the world’s democratic nations.
Beijing’s position represents a political risk, jeopardizing its diplomatic standing and potential trade and investment ties with Israel in exchange for bolstering its relationships with Middle Eastern Muslim nations.
Notably, China’s alignment in the Middle East takes into account the Sunni-Shiite divide, with Iran playing a pivotal role in its regional alliance-building efforts.
China is Iran’s primary trade partner, and Iran’s economic reliance on China is substantial. Because the West has sanctioned Iran, selling oil to China remains one of Tehran’s few viable revenue streams.
Furthermore, China assists Iran in areas such as military equipment, technology and weaponry, and extends support to Iran’s nuclear program. In turn, Iran provides financial aid, weapons, training and technological support to Hamas.
Matthew Levitt, director of the Reinhard Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, recently told Deutsche Welle that Iran provides substantial funding to Hamas, estimated at US$70 million to US$100 million annually, even in the face of US sanctions.
Iran and Hamas place a higher emphasis on their militant activities than on the welfare of their constituents. Under Hamas’ rule, Gaza residents experience notably low living standards.
Furthermore, in addition to financial support from Iran, Hamas imposes taxes on all imports and exports in Gaza, further complicating the livelihoods of its citizens.
Hamas holds effective governance in the Gaza Strip, often in conflict with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), an entity that has, at times, been labeled a terrorist organization. Beijing maintains engagement with both parties.
China has been a consistent supporter of the PLO since the 1960s, and recognized Palestinian statehood in 1988. The PLO maintains an embassy in Beijing, while China has a representative office in the Palestinian territories. China consistently upholds the Palestinian cause in global forums such as the UN, advocating for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Earlier this year, China and Palestine solidified their relations through a strategic partnership agreement.
China’s support for Palestine is driven by its desire to position itself as an ally of the Muslim world, thereby fostering a coalition against Israel. Concomitantly, Israel’s economic significance to China has declined. Foreign direct investment from China and exports to Israel peaked in 2018.
Furthermore, China’s favorability among Israelis is waning. In 2016, 66 percent of the Israeli populace held a positive view of China. By last year, the figure had dwindled to 48 percent.
China’s support for Hamas during this conflict could further exacerbate this decline.
The US has long maintained a staunch alliance with Israel, extending crucial military assistance. In 2018, Israel officially relocated its capital to Jerusalem, a move that rendered a China-mediated peace agreement unattainable. Although many Western nations declined to endorse the transition, former US president Donald Trump showed solidarity with Israel by transferring the US embassy to Jerusalem.
That same year, thousands of kilometers away in Taipei, he similarly relocated the American Institute in Taiwan, effectively the de facto embassy, to an impressive US$250 million, 6.5 hectare office complex. The move sent a clear signal to China that Washington was amplifying its support for Taiwan.
In addition to providing military aid to Israel and Taiwan, the US has been funding the defense of Ukraine. US lawmakers are fighting over whether or not to keep supporting all three, and by how much.
Those who support continued funding say that if the Hamas attack on Israel goes unanswered or if Ukraine falls to Russia, China would be emboldened to invade Taiwan. Xi is closely monitoring these developments, and the global response to the Ukraine conflict and the Hamas attack would influence his assessment of the potential reaction to a Taiwan invasion.
Should he perceive Washington as an unreliable partner, one that might abandon Taiwan, it could prompt him to take action.
“I do not know a single Israeli who does not support Taiwan,” said Yitzhak Tzubara, a former staff sergeant in Israeli military intelligence with a master’s degree in East Asian Studies.
He said that while some Israelis might refrain from openly expressing their pro-Taiwan stance due to professional connections with or business interests in China, they, too, hold a favorable view of Taiwan.
Tzubara underscored the deep gratitude of the Israeli people for the military, economic and diplomatic support they have received from the US.
In the context of Ukraine and Taiwan, he stressed the importance of unity among the free world against Iran, Russia, China and North Korea.
While Israel and South Korea require ongoing assistance, they possess formidable military capabilities and face adversaries of lesser strength.
However, Tzubara made a clear distinction, stating: “Taiwan and Ukraine are different. They need more help.”
Ukraine requires sustained support for its very existence, and similarly, Taiwan cannot confront China unaided.
He said that Israel could manage by countering Hamas and Hezbollah, albeit with the need for some assistance in terms of funds and ammunition, but not to an extensive degree. In contrast, Taiwan and Ukraine demand substantial assistance.
An assertive China could pose a greater threat to US national security interests. Therefore, backing all three nations — Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan — becomes a highly effective strategy for upholding global peace.
Antonio Graceffo, a China economic analyst who holds a China-MBA from Shanghai Jiaotong University, studies national defense at the American Military University in West Virginia.
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