China: All over the Map on Gaza

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In line with its desire for stability both at home and in the international system in order to foster its ongoing “peaceful development,” the Chinese government has been generally opposed to Israel’s recent actions in Gaza. When Israel began launching airstrikes two weeks ago, the initial reaction from the Chinese foreign ministry was an expression of “serious concern” and a condemnation of “actions that have caused civilian casualties.” After ground operations commenced, Chinese President Hu Jintao addressed the situation in Gaza as a “humanitarian crisis” and called for all sides to “immediately stop their military activities.” On Jan. 7, China was one of the 14 UN Security Council members who voted in favor of the resolution calling for a ceasefire and the full withdrawal of Israeli military forces from Gaza.

The Southern Metropolis Daily, one of the leading commercial newspapers in China, draws attention to a Jan. 5 blog posting by Renmin University professor Zhou Xiaozheng in which he proclaims that Israel is a “good country” and praises various aspects of Jewish culture and civilization. The sociology professor does not address the Gaza situation, but the timing of his post seems to be a response to the discourse taking place over it, most of it presumably negative towards Israel. Zhou writes, “Chinese are apt to describe their modern history as ‘full of disasters and tragedies.’ Much of that was due to causes originating from ourselves. For the Jewish people, however, the causes are almost all external. All of the enormous calamities they have encountered for the past thousands of years have been solely due to their religious faith. These suffering people who have endured years of wars, who have long wandered in exile, and who have gone through a crucible of famine, torture, killings, and humiliation, have held on to their faith from beginning to end. They prospered in adversity and exhibited stubborn resolve in their growth and development. Not only did they keep from falling down, they were even able to miraculously garner worldwide recognition for their great achievements in technology, military, education, modern agriculture, and other fields.”

Zhou’s blog post has attracted over 350,000 views and nearly 5,000 comments which range from harsh condemnation to unabashed praise. The Southern Metropolis Daily article states that Zhou’s post has given rise to “pro-Zhou” and “anti-Zhou” camps in the blogosphere. The anti-Zhou blogger highlighted by the article writes, “Your defense [of Israel] brings to mind the behavior and actions of Japan and its people. If you choose to ignore their perpetration of inhuman massacres and pillaging, there are also many things you can praise about the various achievements of their culture and civilization. … The problem is that this admiration of Japan’s achievements and my understanding of its crimes of invasion against China, Asia, and the world are two different things!”

The pro-Zhou blogger featured in the Southern Metropolis Daily article writes, “During the War of Resistance against Japan in Shanghai, kindhearted sons and daughters of China, while under attack from the Japanese devils, welcomed Jewish refugees who were fleeing a murderous German Fascist regime. Half a century later, no matter whether China adopted a radical Leftist policy or a pragmatic policy, the Israeli people have always felt a deep gratitude towards the Chinese people. Even after being misunderstood by China for 30 years, this country and its people had still quietly done so much for China. To be frank, as a Chinese citizen, I hold positive feelings towards Israel and the Jewish people. A people that understand gratitude are the true friends of the Chinese people.”

In the absence of strong historical, ideological, or religious connections to the Middle East, Chinese views of the Israeli-Palestinian issue are all over the map as the different viewpoints above illustrate. However, what is notable is that in spite of nearly universal condemnation of Israel’s actions in Gaza and the Chinese government’s critical remarks, there still exists a significant vocal contingent of Israel supporters and admirers in China.

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