October 17, 2023 | Policy Brief

Beijing Refuses to Condemn Hamas, Steps Up Criticism of Israel

October 17, 2023 | Policy Brief

Beijing Refuses to Condemn Hamas, Steps Up Criticism of Israel

China refuses to condemn either Hamas’ war crimes or its shock assault on Israel last week, an approach that mirrors its response to other conflicts, especially the Russia-Ukraine war. In casting itself as an unconditional supporter of the Palestinian cause, Beijing aims to simultaneously enhance its regional influence and confound policymakers in Washington.

On October 8, following Hamas’ large-scale attacks on Israel, the United States and European Union immediately condemned Hamas’ aggression. Meanwhile, China refrained from labeling Hamas’ assault a terrorist act. Instead, Beijing simply reiterated its support for “establishing an independent State of Palestine” and expressed “concern” about the potential for further violence. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning repeated these themes during a press conference on October 9, calling for “calm” and expressing sadness about “acts that harm civilians,” without specifying what those “acts” were. 

Since then, China’s official rhetoric has grown more critical of Israel. For example, speaking with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud on October 14, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi bluntly stated that Israel’s actions to target Hamas in Gaza had “gone beyond self-defense.” Meanwhile, Chinese state-controlled media outlets Xinhua and China Daily attributed the current conflict to U.S. efforts to negotiate an Israel-Saudi peace plan, supposedly at the expense of a potential two-state solution between the Palestinians and Israel.

Generally speaking, China’s reaction to the Israel-Hamas war closely mirrors its position on Ukraine, where Beijing has avoided directly condemning Russia’s aggression. China’s response is also consistent with its longstanding support for Palestinian statehood, dating back to the Palestine Liberation Organization’s 1964 founding. More recently, in June 2023, Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas finalized a “strategic partnership” in which Beijing pledged to increase cooperation with and funding to the Palestinian Authority. At the signing ceremony, Xi remarked, “China and Palestine are close friends and partners who trust and support each other.”

In parallel, China has intensified its overtures to Iran — Hamas’ top financial benefactor. Besides mediating a diplomatic détente between Iran and Saudi Arabia this year, China successfully lobbied to secure Iran’s membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. At China’s behest, the BRICS club of emerging nations also extended an invitation for Iran to join group.

In Beijing’s calculus, bolstering support for Palestinian statehood is not merely symbolic; it is a strategic move to enhance its diplomatic resonance in the Middle East, aiming to offset U.S. influence. By navigating today’s diplomatic tightrope between Israel and Hamas, China stands to manage multi-faceted interests: maintaining lukewarm rapport with Israel, undermining U.S. alliances with Sunni Arab nations, and ensuring stable Iranian energy flows.

Whether in the Middle East or Europe, China’s adept tactics underscore a uniform strategy to contest Western authority while portraying itself as an unbiased mediator. While China’s approach appears unlikely to deliver either peace or Palestinian statehood, policymakers must remain attuned to Beijing’s moves and Xi’s clear desire to reconfigure the global order. These and other Chinese maneuvers, steeped in self-interest, signify aspirations to generate a seismic shift in diplomatic dynamics and risk undermining the United States’ longstanding primacy.

Craig Singleton is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and deputy director of FDD’s China Program. For more analysis from Craig and the China Program, please subscribe HERE. Follow Craig on X @CraigMSingleton. Follow FDD on X @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy. 


China Energy Gulf States Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Israel at War Jihadism Palestinian Politics Russia Ukraine