Focusing on Pushing for Political Solution

By Gong Xiaosheng

Since the end of World War Two, no region in the world has been like the Middle East which has suffered from unending wars, conflicts and volatilities. The Palestinian issue that has lasted for over 70 years is always a bleeding and unrecoverable trauma in the Middle East. This year has seen consistent conflicts in Gaza between armed groups in Palestine, such as Hamas, on one hand and Israel on the other. Meanwhile, the complicated and confusing situation in other hotspots, such as Syria, Libya and Yemen, has continued to deteriorate, with intermittent wars, making the process of political solution more difficult. Following the change of government in Algeria and Sudan, many are worried about a looming, spreading and intense turmoil, or, even worse, an evolution like the “Arab Spring” which erupted in West Asia and North Africa in 2011. A volatile Middle East, intertwined with non-traditional security threats such as spreading terrorism and refugees, harms the countries in the region and also jeopardizes its neighborhood, posing a serious threat to world peace, stability and development. At present, terrorist forces like the “Islamic State” have been foiled and defeated across the board in the Middle East thanks to the joint attacks by regional and international parties, but the remnants are trying hard to shift to Africa, Central Asia and South Asia. They launched terrorist attacks in Egypt, Afghanistan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Europe, aiming more at soft targets, to maximize the deterrence of terror. They have become flowing dangers to international security. The fleeing Islamic extremists also pose a spreading threat. Therefore, the international counter-terrorism cause is still a long and uphill journey. More worryingly, the Middle East has been increasingly the main source of global refugees, with an estimated displaced population of 12 million in the region, five times that in 2005. The region, with only 8% of the world population, provides over 50% of global refugees. Huge numbers of refugees are moving to neighboring countries and Europe. In fact, it has resulted in Europe facing the greatest refugee inflow since World War Two. 

What is noteworthy now is the new US policy on the Middle East and its corresponding moves this year. After moving its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, the US announced a new Middle East peace plan. On the Iranian issue, the US pulled out of the comprehensive Iran nuclear deal last year and has since then spared no efforts to pressurize Iran by continuously intensifying unilateral sanctions against Iran, designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a “foreign terrorist organization”, vowing to bring Iranian oil exports to zero and sending a US aircraft carrier strike group and B-52 and F-35 fighters to patrol over the Gulf. Iran has reacted tit for tat. The confrontational arrangements of the two sides have shrouded the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz with clouds of war, continuously escalating the tensions. The recent attacks on Gulf oil tankers and pipelines have also furthered the danger of military conflicts. There are growing risks for arms race, military confrontation and even all-round military conflicts in the Middle East.

A land of abundance, the Middle East is the bridge connecting Europe, Asia and Africa, with a crucial strategic position. The world would not be tranquil without stability in the Middle East. The explosive situation of tension and volatility has made the international community and countries in the region concerned about the future of the Middle East, and, more importantly, any further turbulence in the region which will have considerable implications for the peace and stability in the neighborhood and beyond. 

How will the Middle East situation evolve? Where is the Middle East heading for?

Will it repeat a century of volatility and unending wars, or move towards peace, stability and development? This question about the Middle East is of global interest. China believes that the Middle East is now at the crossroads. Countries in the region and the whole international community are all facing a serious challenge and choice and they must work together to build a focus on seeking political solution. That is the only way out for resolving the Middle East hotspots and there is no alternative. 

As President Xi Jinping pointed out during his visit to the Arab League headquarters in 2016, “in their past exchanges across time and space, the Chinese and Arab peoples have been sincere with each other, forging friendship along the ancient Silk Road, sharing weal and woe in the fight for national independence, and helping each other in building their own countries”. As President Xi stressed, with regard to China’s policy measures toward the Middle East, China decides its position on issues on the basis of their own merits and the fundamental interests of the people in the Middle East, and it is not China’s policy to look for a proxy, seek any sphere of influence or attempt to fill the "vacuum" in the Middle East. With its historical experience similar to the Middle East countries, China deeply sympathizes with them for the sufferings they are now in. We are deeply concerned and worried about the escalating conflicts in the Middle East hotspots. China believes that peace in the Middle East is in the interest of all countries in the region and is also important for the stability and development in China. China, therefore, sincerely hopes for early realization of peace, stability, cooperation and development in the Middle East countries instead of confrontation, conflicts or turmoil. 

China has made unremitting efforts to push for a relaxed situation in the Middle East and early solution to the regional hotspots. China has maintained friendly ties with all countries in the region, kept up dialogue with relevant parties and called on the international community to work together for stronger actions to revitalize the talk process politically and promote the reconstruction process economically so as to give hope to the people in all Middle East countries at an early date. With regard to the Middle East hotspots, China has consistently taken an open and inclusive attitude, emphasizing that pursuing political solutions to conflicts and disputes through dialogue, negotiation and other peaceful means is the best way for resolving the hotspots. It has also underlined that all peace initiatives, active moves and diplomatic efforts will have the backing of China as long as they help ease the tensions, cool down the situation, serve the interests of the people in the region and are welcomed by the international community. 

China believes that the Middle East hotspot issues must be resolved in a comprehensive way. Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and other hotspots should get equally important attention from the international community. The international community should not focus just on one hotspot while neglecting or marginalizing others. With regard to the Palestine issue, which is an issue of fundamental importance to peace in the Middle East, the international community should work even harder to settle the disputes, not only promoting the resumption of talks and implementation of peace agreements, but also upholding fairness and justice. The international community should stick to the principle of fairness and justice, and address historical injustice as soon as possible. China firmly supports the Middle East peace process and supports the just cause of the Palestinian people in restoring their legitimate national rights. We understand the legitimate aspirations of Palestine to integrate into the international community as a state. And we support the establishment of an independent State of Palestine enjoying full sovereignty on the basis of the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital. That is the key to solving the Palestine issue. And at the same time, China believes that Israel’s right to survival and legitimate security concerns should also be fully respected. China supports the guideline that the two countries of Israel and Palestine coexist in peace and share peace and security. Only that can provide for the comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the Palestine issue. 

China’s position on promoting the Middle East peace process is unequivocal. Over 70 years ago, the United Nations passed the partition resolution, thus the United Nations holds a special responsibility for the Middle East issue. We always stand for resolving the Middle East issue in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and basic principles of international law and comprehensively advancing the Middle East peace process based on existing outcomes, such as the relevant UN resolutions, the “land for peace” principle, the “two-state solution” and the “Arab Peace Initiative”.

China has all along held that dialogue and negotiation should be the only path toward peace between Palestine and Israel. The two sides, Palestine and Israel, should follow the trend of the era and commit to peace talks with mutual understanding and accommodation in an effort to move toward each other. What is imperative now is to take concrete measures to stop building settlements, stop violent activities against the innocent, lift the blockade of Gaza, properly resolve the issue of Palestinians in detention and provide emergency humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians, thus creating favorable conditions for the restoration of peace talks. 

On the urgent Iran nuclear issue, which attracts much international attention, China, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council and a party to the comprehensive Iran nuclear deal, always takes an objective, fair and responsible position. China supports and upholds the comprehensive Iran nuclear deal, opposes the use or threat of force and urges the US and Iran to resolve differences through dialogue and negotiations with a view to safeguarding regional peace and stability. Wars are dangerous. China believes that sustained tension in the Gulf is bad for all, that confrontation is no way out and that dialogue and consultation is the only solution. 

The current situation in Syria is unsustainable. There is no winner in conflicts and it is the people in the region who suffer. Therefore, ceasefire is imperative, political dialogue is the fundamental path forward and humanitarian assistance is urgent. On the Syria issue, China always stands for a political solution as the only practical way out. China firmly upholds international justice and international law, believing that the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria should be upheld and respected and that the future of the country should be decided by the Syrian people. China supports the United Nations as the main channel of mediation. China calls on all parties concerned to seek a solution that reflects Syria’s reality and accommodates all parties’ concerns through inclusive political dialogue. 

The development issue is at the root of the volatility in the Middle East, thus the final solution relies on development. And the key is to accelerate development, which concerns the life and dignity of the people. This is a race against time, a fight between hope and despair. The people in the region will choose dialogue and political solution over violence, extremism and terrorism, only when they, the young in particular, are given hope and dignity of life in the process of development. At present, what all countries in the Middle East want is peace, reform and development and what all the Middle East people long for is stability, tranquility and happiness. 

China is committed to a path of peaceful development, an independent foreign policy of peace and a mutual beneficial and win-win strategy of opening up. China is ready to work with all countries in the region and the international community to play a bigger, more active role on the Middle East issue. China adheres to the concept of “promoting peace through development”. In responding to the strong desire of the people in the Middle East for peace and development, the Belt and Road Initiative which is connected to regional realities, will not only provide new opportunities for economic development in all countries in the Middle East but also make important contribution to the settlement of the Middle East hotspots. The Middle East people aspire for more of tranquility and dignity but less of conflict and suffering. In the past century, the Middle East has gone through too much painful turbulence. In the coming century, China sincerely hopes that Middle East countries will forge a sense of a community of shared destiny, break away from the historical burdens, move forward amidst difficulties and jointly build a better future of lasting peace and common prosperity for the region. 

Gong Xiaosheng is China’s Special Envoy on the Middle East Issue.