From Russia to the Middle East: Why China can’t afford another big conflict


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Hong Kong CNN  — 

Beijing is once again trying to have it both ways.

It has spent over a year tiptoeing over Russia’s war in Ukraine. The Asian superpower has refused to condemn the invasion and instead provided much-needed diplomatic and economic support for Moscow.

Now, as Israel’s war against Palestinian militant group Hamas threatens to spiral into a broader conflict that could shatter stability in the Middle East, China has called for a ceasefire while criticizing Israel’s actions. It has also noticeably not condemned Hamas for carrying out what has been called the worst single day massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, while voicing its support for a two-state solution for Palestine and Israel.

The stance is in keeping with China’s decades-long support for Palestinian statehood, but also underscores sharp divisions between China and the United States, which has staunchly backed Israel’s right to retaliate against Hamas. It also highlights China’s deep economic interests in both Russia and the Middle East, which it wants to safeguard at all cost.

The world’s second largest economy depends on Russia and the Middle East for much of its energy needs. They are also an important part of Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative: an ambitious yet controversial undertaking to boost connectivity and trade across the world with Chinese money and know-how in infrastructure development.

Both these factors will continue to play a huge role in how Beijing responds to the geopolitical fault lines, analysts said.

“China has also been eager to highlight, through whatever means, solidarity with major oil-producing nations and limit any fallout that could further destabilize the origin, disrupt oil supplies and drive up energy prices,” said Eswar Prasad, a professor at Cornell University and a former head of the IMF’s China division.