US Embassy’s Relocation to Jerusalem: Beijing’s View
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By Tai Wei Lim

US Embassy’s Relocation to Jerusalem: Beijing’s View

Dec. 18, 2017  |     |  0 comments

What is China’s stance on the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel? China’s official stance is for the Palestinians to have their own sovereign state established according to the 1967 boundaries indicating East Jerusalem as its capital city. This is popularly known as the “two state solution.”


The majority of Chinese state media appears to consider the current US decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem as unfortunate and untimely. The stronger op-eds in the Chinese state media conceptualize the decision as an avenue that may incur retaliation against the US. Beijing is navigating delicately between its partnerships and friendships with both Arab countries and the Israelis, while keeping in mind the recent upturn in US-China relations, especially after President Donald J Trump’s visit to Beijing.


To present the Arab side of the story, the state-owned media broadcast Palestinian opposition to the decision, alongside European concerns. Leading European leaders like French President Macron have expressed their views on the subject. The usual right-leaning patriotic conservative press like The Global Times were more critical of the US decision. The mainstream press however was more pacifist in attitude and called for peace in the region, a position which is not that different from Chinese attitudes towards North Korea — another troubled area in the world where the US and its allies are currently engaged in a stand-off with the internationally-marginalized Pyongyang.


Interestingly, some state media platforms in China worry about the unilateral instincts of the Trump administration and wonder if such instincts will be applied to North Korea at the doorstep of China. This worries Beijing which is trying to advocate for a peaceful solution to the stand-off between the US and Pyongyang. Beijing has in the past been in favor of returning to the Six Party talks and is now trying to persuade both Pyongyang and Washington to talk to each other, something that US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in favor of.


Similarly, on the Palestinian issue, some stakeholders in the Middle East peace process are mobilizing major powers like China, Russia, EU and others to assist with cooling down temperatures and returning to the negotiating table. Jordan, the UN, and the Pope are persuading the parties involved to continue with peace negotiations and/or dialogue.


The imageries conjured up by the Chinese state-owned press appear to range from amazement at the unexpected strength of the Trump administration’s decision, to fear and trepidation of the impact of his perceived unilateralism. Following such views, the apt analogy may be that of a shock treatment offered by the Trump administration to get Palestinians to talk with the Israelis. Interestingly, the Trump administration’s approaches to both the Middle East and North Korea issues have been examined together on some Chinese media platforms, bringing the Jerusalem decision a lot closer to home for Chinese readers and viewers.


The current situation is likely to offer some fodder for Chinese state-owned media, patriotic right-leaning conservative commentators, sympathetic pro-Trump Chinese social media voices, and even state propaganda units to wage their respective narrative battles against each other. It may have some limited impact on Chinese public opinions about the US, Sino-US relations, and the Trump administration.

In the Jerusalem recognition issue, Beijing is careful not to scuttle the peace process. It wants the parties and stakeholders concerned to continue to observe and implement the UN resolutions and to stick to the peace process.

Overall, following the announcement of the move of the US embassy, Beijing is worried about political stability in the Middle East, its impact on strengthening extremism and radicalism in the already volatile region, and the security situation. Beijing and most of the world understand that US-Arab cooperation is the only way to bring lasting peace to the Middle East. Some Palestinians have expressed their anger and declared they no longer consider the US to be a neutral party and that the peace process is effectively dead. It may be a little too premature to conclude this.


Some media commentators in China are also worried about the future of the Saudi-Israeli relationship. Arab anger may turn out against both the US and Israel. Radicals and extremists in the Middle East may then find common ground with Arab nationalists. Arab nationalism was a powerful force in the post-war era of decolonization when secular Arab forces including military groups and the Young Turks declared independence from European colonialism.


Some Chinese in the social media channels have expressed their agreement with Trump’s decision. Trump has been a popular personality in China. Beijing offered regal treatment for President Trump when he visited President Xi Jinping. Despite his tough words on China during the US Presidential election period, President Trump has not carried out any of his threats and sanctions on China at this point of this writing. Trump’s frank views, appreciation of Chinese culture — expressed through his children like Ivanka (whose daughter sang Chinese-language songs during the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations to Chinese embassy officials) — mark a turnabout from perceptions of the Obama administration’s tough attitudes towards China. All these have endeared Trump to a section of the Chinese population. Therefore, it is not a good time to disturb the Sino-US equilibrium in relations.


China’s caution on the issue of Jerusalem is completely consistent with its international diplomacy which selectively focuses on issues in line with national interests and which does not overstretch China’s resources as an economic superpower. In the past, this was tied to the doctrine of “lying low and biding time” theorized by Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. But with President Xi’s administration, Beijing has had a higher profile in global affairs. Just recently, the Chinese used their permanent status on the UN Security Council to block an attempt by the UN Security Council to debate and do something about the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.


Despite its higher profile, Beijing is carefully picking its targets for peace overtures as well as exhibiting assertiveness carefully and selectively. In the Jerusalem recognition issue, Beijing is careful not to scuttle the peace process. It wants the parties and stakeholders concerned to continue to observe and implement the UN resolutions and to stick to the peace process.


The state media also reported on other world leaders’ reactions towards the Trump administration’s decision. For example, the Chinese state media reported Turkish President Recep Erdogan dispensing warnings to President Trump over his decision. Jordan has also been outspoken about the US decision, and has initiated an extraordinary session at the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference to highlight their concerns about the US decision. The Chinese state-owned media also reported Qatar disagreeing with Washington.


For any lasting solutions to the tensions, the legitimate concerns and national security of Israel must also be recognized, as its southern regions have suffered rocket attacks and loss of lives from radicals and extremists. It may be time for all to cool down and start dialoguing again with fair and objective treatment of both Israeli and Arab concerns as well as the interests of the external powers.

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