China is using the recent Hamas-Israel conflict to initiate a media blitz of its state run newspapers to score propaganda victories for its image abroad. Specifically, the CCP is using state-run newspapers like XinhuaNet, Global Times, and China Daily to undermine US foreign policy, promote China as a new, more sensible alternative, and promote China as the defender of Palestinian rights.
Undermining US Foreign Policy
China’s media is using the recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict to undermine the United States on the world stage. China’s media has used the recent conflict to promote the following myths:
The United States uses the UNSC to undermine peace. Chinese media uses the recent conflict as an opportunity to criticize the US’ role on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). One editorial in XinhuaNet criticizes the US for using its permanent membership on the UNSC to obstruct “de-escalation,” while another criticizes the US for using its position on the UNSC to “set barricades to international mediation.” Global Times, citing “Chinese experts,” claims that the US’ position on the UNSC is “unhelpful for international mediation.” That same article also quotes Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi calling the US failing to support a UNSC resolution on the Gaza conflict as “standing on the opposite side of international justice.” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, according to a XinhuaNet article, criticized the US for “fall[ing] into unprecedented isolation in the UNSC and stand[ing] completely on the opposite side of human conscience and morality.”
The United States promotes and enables violence in the Middle East. Chinese media uses the recent Hamas-Israel conflict to portray American diplomacy as promoting or otherwise being complicit in the violence. An editorial in XinhuaNet portrayed President Biden as a hypocrite by asking for “a significant de-escalation” from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yet “adding fuel to the fire” by approving $735 million in precision-guided weapons to Israel. This editorial also quotes Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who stated that these precision weapons would “kill more children with more precision.”
Another editorial in XinhuaNet claims the US is engaging in “duplicity and cruelty” and “incorrect and inequitable” foreign policy in the region, and that the violence was “a manifestation of the U.S. [sic] reckless political calculations.” The violence, according to this editorial, “has long been sowed by the US. [sic] flawed, partial [sic] Middle East policy in blatant favor of Israel for its [sic] own political gains.” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, according to China Daily, stated that the United States is being “strongly obstructive” in alleviating the suffering of the Palestinians. Another XinhuaNet editorial claims that the US had “deliberately turned a blind eye to Israel’s unrestrained use of armed violence against the Palestinian enclave [i.e., Gaza], sweeping Palestinian Muslims into war and sufferings.”
The United States is a hypocrite when it comes to promoting human rights. Chinese media also uses reporting on the Hamas-Israel conflict to accuse the United States of hypocrisy on human rights, likely an attempt to deflect away from China’s own human rights violations. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, in a XinhuaNet article, asked “Why does the United States pay no attention to the human rights of the Palestinian people when it talks about defending the human rights of Muslims?” In what Freud would call projection, Zhao followed up by claiming that “[t]he United States only cares about its own interests; maybe it is just using human rights as a cover.”
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, in an article in China Daily, claimed that while the United States speaks up against the human rights of Muslims [presumably, a reference to the Uyghurs], the United States “shows indifference to [the] suffering” of Palestinian Muslims. Furthermore, in this article Hua claimed that the United States organizes “meaningless meetings on Xinjiang-related issues based on lies and political prejudice,” amounting to “a political farce.” Ma Xiaolin, Dean of the Institute for Studies on the Mediterranean Rim at Zhejiang International Studies University, is cited in Global Times as claiming that “[t]he Biden administration always says its diplomacy prioritizes ‘human rights,’ especially when interfering in other countries’ internal affairs, but when there is horrific human rights disaster caused by its ally’s military operations in Gaza, ‘which is an overreaction to Hamas’ attack,’ the hypocrisy and double standards of the US has been exposed again.”
Promoting Chinese Foreign Policy as the Alternative
While undermining the United States, China uses the Hamas-Israel conflict to promote the following myths about Chinese foreign policy:
China is the peaceful, rational arbiter of peace in the Middle East. Chinese media portrays China as the rational voice for diplomacy in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to XinhuaNet, “China has been consistent in promoting the peace process in the Middle East, has adhered to fairness and justice, and is ready to support all efforts that help to ease the tension.” Zhao Lijian, spokesperson of Chinese Foreign Ministry offered to “host seminars for Palestinian and Israeli peace advocates and welcome representatives from Palestine and Israel to come to China for direct negotiations,” according to Global Times.
China can do Middle East diplomacy better than the US. Chinese media also portrays China as willing and able to promote peace in the Middle East, so effectively that it should supplant the United States. According to Global Times, Hua Liming, former Chinese ambassador to Iran and an expert on Middle East affairs stated that the US’ proposed solutions to the Israel-Palestinian conflict “won’t last very long,” “China will never copy such a solution,” and that “China needs time to find the new path together with all relevant parties in the region.” Hua also stated that China is also better suited for a role as mediator than the US is because “[u]nlike the US and other major powers, China has no conflict with any party and China has no colonial history in the region.”
China promotes Middle East diplomacy using its UNSC powers better than the US does. Chinese media also portrays China as using its new term as president of the UNSC as a vehicle to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians. XinhuaNet reports that China has its new position “to tackle the Palestine-Israel conflict and pushed the UNSC to deliberate on the Palestinian issue many times.” Quoting Zhao Lijian, spokesperson of Chinese Foreign Ministry, Global Times and China Daily also stressed the importance of China’s new position on the UNSC to lead in Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy. These two publications further cited Zhao as saying that China will use its position on the Security Council to promote peace negotiations, a two-state solution, and a durable peace.
Chinese media make it clear that China’s enhanced diplomatic role is supported by the larger Muslim world. According to Hua Liming, former Chinese ambassador to Iran and an expert on Middle East affairs, Middle Eastern countries “expect…China to make more contributions to solving their problems” given that “China is becoming the biggest energy buyer in the region and on of the most important trade partners to many Middle East countries,” according to Global Times. China Daily mention that Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi “agrees with China’s position on the current Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” and that “[n]oting Pakistan highly appreciates China for upholding justice in the Security Council,” Qureshi also maintained that Pakistan wished to work with China “to achieve a ceasefire and cessation of violence as well as to cool down the situation.”
China as the Protector and Champion of Palestinians
Another common myth portrayed in Chinese media is China as the protector and champion of the Palestinians.
Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, as reported by China Daily, stated that “China will continue to firmly support the just cause of the Palestinian people to strive for the restoration of their legitimate national rights.” According to another China Daily article, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian stated that China has pledged $1 million “to Palestine as emergency humanitarian assistance,” in addition to donating 200,000 doses of COVID-19 to the Palestinians through UNRWA. China Daily had stated that the China International Development Cooperation Agency stated it would provide humanitarian aid to “the Palestinian government.”
XinhuaNet quotes Palestinians themselves as evidence that the Palestinians see China as their champion. The newspaper cites Palestinian Fatah official as stating that China’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shows that it is “a staunch supporter of friendship, justice and peace,” and that it “is always committed to safeguarding the peace around the world.” That same article cites another Palestinian, a professor at the Arab American University “in Palestine,” as saying that China plays a “crucial and strategic [role in the region] for the long term, a role that Arab countries hope could become greater.”
Another XinhuaNet article indicates that China would be well suited to negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because “[g]iven the great disparity in national strength between Palestine and Israel, it is hardly possible for the two sides to negotiate a fair and equitable deal all by their own.”
In the recent violence, Chinese media seem to favor Hamas over Israel. XinhuaNet states that Israel “must exercise restraint in particular” given that it “has the upper hand with more advanced weaponry and much fewer casualties.” Mimicking Islamist propaganda, the editorial in XinhuaNet enumerates a long list of demands for Israel, including that it “should conform to the UN resolutions, stop destroying houses and expelling people of Palestine, halt expansion of Israeli settlements, avoid anti-Muslim violence, threats and provocations, and respect the historical status quo at holy sites of Jerusalem.” At the same time, the article diminishes Hamas’ culpability: its “rocket launches” are merely “retaliatory,” and the editorial bizarrely asks Hamas to “try not to hurt civilians and join in the efforts to deescalate the tension.”
Chinese media was swift to spin the Hamas-Israel conflict to its advantage. By positioning China as a better alternative to the US in brokering peace, China can increase its positive profile on the international state while reducing criticism for its human rights at home. Given its growing ties to both Iran and the Gulf countries, China is positioning itself to be a power broker in Middle East politics.
You can follow Steve Postal on Twitter @HebraicMosaic