China’s Official Stance Shifts: Israel Recognized for its Right to Self-Defense in Hamas Conflict

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After being criticized over its stance on the war, Beijing has acknowledged that Israel has the right to take action against the terrorist group Hamas. It’s an essential change as Foreign Minister Wang Yi prepares for a high-profile visit to Washington.

On Monday’s call with his Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen, Wang said that every country “has the right to self-defense but should abide by international humanitarian law and protect civilians.” He added that Israel must not use excessive force to respond to a deadly Hamas rocket attack on October 7. Over 5,000 Palestinians have been killed in the relentless Israeli bombardment of Gaza.

While condemning the attack, China emphasized that its relations with Israel and the Palestinians remain good. “We firmly believe that differences between Israel and Palestine can be comprehensively and fairly resolved through talks based on the two-state solution for an independent Palestine,” he said in remarks quoted by the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

The comments, which seem to mark a shift from China’s previously more critical stance, came as Israel appeared poised for a ground invasion of the crowded Gaza Strip, triggering a mass exodus of residents from the region. It would be the most significant military escalation in the conflict since Hamas launched its rocket attack on Israel’s south.

But it was also the first time that China publicly acknowledged that Israel had the right to retaliate against Hamas, which is designated as a terrorist organization by the US and Europe. The shift came as former President Obama called for restraint in the conflict, urging Israel to remember that the world is watching how it responds to Hamas attacks. “Any Israeli military strategy that ignores the real-life human costs of violence could ultimately backfire,” he warned in a blog post.

Earlier, Wang had condemned Israel’s actions in Gaza, saying they went “beyond the scope of self-defense” and that the nation should listen to the calls of the international community and the UN secretary general for it to stop the “collective punishment” of civilians. It was the most decisive stance that China had taken on the situation so far and came after it had mediated a restoration of ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, a key supporter of Hamas.

The change in tone may reflect a desire to show Beijing’s willingness to work with the United States to find a peaceful solution to the conflict, which could bolster its position as a regional player. Senior administration officials have clarified that they want to see a more constructive relationship with Beijing, and this week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer led a group of six senators to the country. California Governor Gavin Newsom will visit later this week to discuss climate change. However, it remains unclear whether the rapprochement in ties with the White House can be translated into progress in the Middle East.

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