By Peter Catterall and Oliver Hotham in Beijing, China
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Monday the world must “act urgently” to calm the Israel-Hamas war as he hosted diplomats from Arab and Muslim-majority nations in Beijing.
A delegation of foreign ministers of the Palestinian Authority, Indonesia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan are in Beijing this week for talks aimed at a “de-escalation” of the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
“Let us work together to quickly cool down the situation in Gaza and restore peace in the Middle East as soon as possible,” Wang told ministers at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in the Chinese capital.
“A humanitarian disaster is unfolding in Gaza,” Wang told the delegates, including the secretary-general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
“The situation in Gaza affects all countries around the world, questioning the human sense of right and wrong and humanity’s bottom line,” he said.
“The international community must act urgently, taking effective measures to prevent this tragedy from spreading,” Beijing’s top diplomat added.
Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas over October 7 attacks that it says killed 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and saw 240 hostages taken, in the worst-ever onslaught on the country.
The Hamas government in Gaza says at least 13,000 people have been killed in Israel’s relentless aerial bombardment and ground operations, thousands of them children.
Following the outbreak of the war last month, Chinese officials, including Foreign Minister Wang, called for an immediate ceasefire and a “cooling down” of the situation.
China has historically been sympathetic to the Palestinians and supportive of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And it has this year sought to play a greater role in the Middle East, facilitating a historic rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran and sending an envoy to the region to push for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict.
The United States stopped short of criticizing the Chinese diplomatic effort but said that it was its own efforts that have borne fruit.
“We would welcome China to play in a constructive role in the Middle East,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters in Washington.
He noted that Secretary of State Antony Blinken earlier told Wang that “if there’s anything they can do to prevent the conflict from widening in terms of using the lines of communications that they have available to countries in the Middle East, we would welcome that.”
But Miller said that it was the United States, not China, that was able to negotiate the entry of humanitarian assistance into the Gaza Strip.
“We always welcome any other countries that can play productive diplomatic roles. But the thing we hear from partners over and over again (is) there’s no substitute for US leadership,” he said.
Wang told the diplomats on Monday that Beijing was “a good friend and brother of Arab and Muslim countries”.
“We have always firmly defended the legitimate rights and interests of Arab and Muslim countries, and have always firmly supported the Palestinian people’s efforts to restore their legitimate national rights and interests,” he said.
“China firmly stands with justice and fairness in this conflict.”
The Palestinian Authority’s foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki accused Israel of seeking to “bring to an end the Palestinian people’s presence on what remains of its historical land”.
And Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat, said Riyadh was “seeking more cooperation with our friends in China” with a view to “work towards ending this crisis and this grave situation as quickly as possible”.
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