China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi (front row 4rth right) poses for a group photo with Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud (front row 3rd left), Jordan's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi (front row 3rd right), Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (front row 2nd left), Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi (front row 2nd right), Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al Maliki (front row left), and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary-General Hissain Brahim Taha (front row right) before a meeting of foreign ministers from Arab and Muslim-majority nations at the Diaoyutai State Guest House in Beijing on November 20, 2023. Image Credit: AFP

BEIJING: China’s top diplomat welcomed four Arab foreign ministers and the Indonesian one to Beijing on Monday, saying his country would work with “our brothers and sisters” in the Arab and Islamic world to try to end the war in Gaza as soon as possible.

The ministers from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Indonesia chose to start in Beijing a tour to permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, a testament to both China’s growing geopolitical influence and its longstanding support for the Palestinians.

The tour aims to push for a ceasefire and propel the political process forward with the goal of lasting peace, as well as “hold the Israeli occupation accountable for the blatant violations and crimes in the Gaza Strip and occupied West Bank,” according to a statement published by the Saudi foreign ministry on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the foreign diplomats that their decision to start in Beijing shows their high level of trust in his nation.

“China is a good friend and brother of Arab and Islamic countries,” Wang said in opening remarks at a state guest house before their talks began. “We have always firmly safeguarded the legitimate rights and interests of Arab (and) Islamic countries and have always firmly supported the just cause of the Palestinian people.”

China has long backed the Palestinians and been quick to denounce Israel over its settlements in the occupied territories. It has not criticized the initial Hamas attack on October 7 — which killed about 1,200 people — while the United States and others have called it an act of terrorism. However, China does have growing economic ties with Israel.

Dangerous developments

The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, called for an immediate ceasefire and the entry of humanitarian aid and relief to the Gaza Strip.

“There are still dangerous developments ahead of us and an urgent humanitarian crisis that requires an international mobilization to deal with and counter it,” he said.

He added they appreciated the resolution issued by the United Nations Security Council, calling for urgent and extended humanitarian pauses in Gaza, “but we still need more efforts and cooperation.”

The visit came after Arab and Muslim leaders condemned the “brutal Israeli aggression” against the Palestinians at a rare joint summit of the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation hosted by Saudi Arabia last week.

The secretary general of the OIC, Hissain Brahim Taha, is also accompanying them on the trip.

China — the world’s second-largest economy after the US — has become increasingly outspoken on international affairs and even gotten directly involved in some recently, albeit cautiously.

In March, Beijing helped broker an agreement that saw Saudi Arabia and Iran reestablish ties after seven years of tension in a role previously reserved for longtime global heavyweights like the US and Russia.

Israel’s retaliatory strikes on the Gaza Strip have so far killed more than 11,500 people, according to Palestinian health authorities. Another 2,700 have been reported missing, believed buried in rubble.

“This isn’t Israel’s first war against the Palestinian people,” said Riyad Al Maliki, the Palestinian Authority foreign minister. “However, Israel wants this to be its last war, where it takes full control of the Palestinian people’s presence on what’s left of the historical land of Palestine.”

Israel’s ambassador to China, Irit Ben-Abba, said on Monday, that her country is allowing sufficient humanitarian aid into Gaza in collaboration with international organizations and that “putting pressure on Israel in this regard is politically motivated and is not conducive to the humanitarian assistance which is needed.”

She also said that they hoped for “no one-sided” resolution by the Security Council and that they expected a clear statement calling for the “unconditional release of the 240 hostages” who were abducted by Hamas during its attacks, “rather than calling for a ceasefire.”