BEIJING: China prepared on Monday (Oct 16) to host representatives of 130 countries for a forum that will be overshadowed by the Israel-Gaza war, as an increasingly assertive Beijing is asked to help de-escalate the violence.
At the top of the invite list to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) forum is Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, on his first trip to a major global power since the Ukraine invasion threw his regime into international isolation.
Leaders have begun to trickle into the Chinese capital for a gala event marking a decade of the BRI – a key project of President Xi Jinping to extend China’s global reach.
While China hopes the forum will help boost its standing as a leading global power, Israel’s war with the Palestinian militant organisation Hamas will continue to dominate the headlines.
Israel declared war on the Islamist group after waves of its fighters broke through the heavily fortified border on Oct 7, shooting, stabbing and burning to death more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians.
Under heavy Israeli bombardment of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, more than one million people have fled their homes in scenes of chaos and despair.
Israel’s bombing has left at least 2,670 people dead in Gaza, mainly civilians, and flattened entire neighbourhoods.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has condemned Israel’s actions for going “beyond the scope of self-defence” and called for it to “cease its collective punishment of the people of Gaza”.
“(Israel) should listen earnestly to the calls of the international community and the UN secretary general, and cease its collective punishment of the people of Gaza,” Wang said Sunday, in what is the strongest stance China has expressed so far on the conflict.
Beijing has been criticised by Western officials for not specifically naming Hamas in its statements on the Israel-Gaza conflict.
Wang had on Sunday spoken with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who called on China to use its “influence” in the Middle East to push for calm.
China has a warm relationship with Iran, whose clerical leadership supports both Hamas and Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group that could open a second front against Israel.
Earlier this year, China brokered an entente between former regional foes Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Beijing’s special envoy Zhai Jun will visit the Middle East this week to push for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict and promote peace talks, China’s state broadcaster CCTV said on Sunday, without specifying which countries he would visit.
Niva Yau, a nonresident fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub, told AFP the BRI summit would allow Beijing to frame attendance as a gesture of support for its position.
“Any head of state that attends the summit, it’s almost as if they agree with Beijing’s positions on these global issues,” she said.