China is due to host representatives of 130 countries for a forum on its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that is likely to be overshadowed by the Israel-Gaza war, and the continuing conflict in Ukraine.
At the top of the forum’s guest list 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, leading the International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue a warrant for his arrest.
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Leaders began arriving in Beijing on Monday for an event showcasing the global reach of the BRI – a signature project of President Xi Jinping.
While China hopes the forum will help boost its standing as a leading global power, Israel’s continued bombardment of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip is likely to dominate the headlines.
Israel declared war on Hamas after its fighters launched a surprise attack on Israel on October 7, killing more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians, and taking others captive.
Gaza has been under attack ever since with entire neighbourhoods flattened. More than one million people have fled their homes amid expectations that Israel will soon launch a ground offensive.
At least 2,670 people have been killed in Gaza.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has condemned Israel’s actions for going “beyond the scope of self-defence” and called for an end to the violence.
“(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 on Sunday.
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 leaders support both Hamas and Hezbollah, the Lebanese group that could open a second front against Israel.
Earlier this year, China brokered a rapprochement 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.
A number of leaders have already arrived in Beijing ahead of the two-day forum, which gets under way on Tuesday.
Among them are Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Chilean President Gabriel Boric, Kenyan President William Ruto and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
On Monday Russia’s top diplomat Sergey Lavrov flew into Beijing and within hours held talks with Wang.
Putin – whose strategic dependence on China has only grown since Russia’s February 2022 invasion of neighbouring Ukraine thrust his country into international isolation – is expected to arrive overnight.
This year, trade between China and Russia has soared to levels not seen since the beginning of Moscow’s war in Ukraine, with Chinese imports of Russian oil offering Moscow a critical lifeline as international sanctions bite.
China has positioned itself as a neutral party, putting forward its own 12-point peace plan, but it has also refused to condemn the war and has offered Moscow vital diplomatic and financial support.
At the heart of the deepening partnership is the relationship between Xi and Putin, who have described each other as “dear friends”.
Their alliance is also forged by a symbiotic necessity, each seeing the other as a necessary bulwark in their shared struggle against Western dominance.
In an interview with Chinese state broadcaster CGTN ahead of his visit this week, Putin hailed ties with Beijing and the “mutual benefits” of the BRI.
“President Putin pointed out that a multipolar world is taking shape, and the concepts and initiatives put forward by President Xi Jinping are highly relevant and significant,” CGTN reported.
“He stated that President Xi Jinping is a well-recognised leader on the world stage and is a true world leader,” the broadcaster said.
Putin also reportedly “shared pleasant memories between President Xi and him, and hoped tradition continues when they meet in China in the future”.
Xi travelled to Moscow in March for a summit with Putin.
Source: AFP, Al Jazeera