Police inspect a site around damaged vehicles after a suicide bombing near the Confucius Institute affiliated with the Karachi University on April 26, 2022. Photo: VCG / Global Times / Facebook

A targeted suicide bombing near Karachi University on April 26 killed four people, including three Chinese tutors. The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) claimed responsibility for the assault, which was part of the separatists’ campaign against China’s growing presence in Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province with access to the Arabian Sea and abundant natural resources. 

On the other side of the continent, Palestinian incitement has resulted in a surge of terrorist attacks in Israel – as it has every year during the month of Ramadan – with 19 Israelis killed and more than 50 injured.

In the first week alone, 12 citizens, Jews and Arabs, were murdered in four incidents around the country. The latest deadly attack took place on Thursday evening, when two Palestinian terrorists heeded a call by Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar to grab a “cleaver, ax or a knife” and embarked on a killing spree of unarmed civilians, orphaning 16 children.

The bombing in Karachi was promptly met with “strong condemnation and great indignation” by Chinese officials, who urged the Pakistani authorities to fight relentlessly those responsible.

Many Chinese netizens and pundits, such as the former editor-in-chief of the Communist Party of China’s tabloid Global Times, Hu Xijin, wrote that the People’s Liberation Army should carry out air strikes against the perpetrators. Quoting Chinese President Xi Jinping, a Foreign Ministry spokesman called terrorism “the common enemy of mankind.”

When compared with China’s response to terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens, it seems that Beijing has a very narrow definition of “mankind.”

On the day China’s UN ambassador Zhang Jun condemned the terrorist attack in Karachi, he paid his monthly lip service to the Palestinians, urgingespecially Israel” to exercise caution, stressing that the Palestinian question should not be marginalized. Records indicate that the envoy has brought up the Israeli-Palestinian conflict almost every month for the past year, frequently with harsh criticism of Israel.

Not unlike previous statements, Ambassador Zhang’s April address drew false equivalences between the 29 armed Palestinian terrorists killed in shootouts with Israeli forces and the 14 Israelis slaughtered in cold blood in the name of Palestine.

The ambassador ticked all the boxes when it came to denouncing Israeli “settlements” and opposing court rulings for evictions and demolitions of Palestinian houses. At the same time, he chose to overlook the three incidents in March and April in which Palestinians launched indiscriminate rocket strikes on Israeli municipalities (not to mention the unprovoked rockets fired into Israeli territory from Lebanon over the same month by Iran’s proxy Hezbollah).

To be sure, as Ambassador Zhang was bashing Israel, the word “terror” did not cross his lips. Nor did he address Palestinian agency in his March address, when the blood of the four Israelis stabbed to death in Beersheba was still warm on the pavement.

Furthermore, the ambassador expressed Beijing’s concern about Israeli actions “especially toward Palestinian children,” once again failing to condemn the Palestinian Authority and Hamas for decades of indoctrinating the Palestinian public – especially Palestinian children – into believing that murdering Jews is a cause for celebration and martyrdom.

Over the past month, China’s envoy to Ramallah, Guo Wei, has been busy making media appearances and penning op-eds for official Palestinian platforms, expressing China’s great worry “about the prolonged tension in Jerusalem, particularly the Al-Aqsa Mosque.” Using the familiar formulation, Guo urged all parties, “especially Israel,” to maintain calm and restraint.

Compare Guo’s work with the deafening silence of his counterpart in Tel Aviv, Ambassador Cai Run. Even a mass shooting on Dizengoff Street, just a few blocks from the Chinese ambassador’s apartment, would not elicit a sympathetic response.

Instead, he was busy whitewashing China’s actions in local newspapers about the “Wonderful Land of Xinjiang,” where Beijing continues to commit welldocumented atrocities in the name of the “war on terror” against millions of Muslim minorities – its own people.

Jekyll and Hyde

The White House’s mounting pressure on Israel to cut ties with Beijing has had no effect on the celebrations commemorating the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations with China, which took place in January.

That month, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid held a cordial virtual summit with Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan at the fifth Joint Committee on Innovation Cooperation, an annual G2G (government-to-government) platform that is unique in the diplomatic landscapes of both nations. 

In an op-ed for CPC mouthpiece People’s Daily, Ambassador Cai praised the “thousand years of friendship” between the Chinese and Jewish peoples. At a later panel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the ambassador used the words “friend” and “friendship” 11 times in a pre-written speech.

Nonetheless, when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is brought up in international forums, the friendly faces are overtaken by a hideous grimace. China’s seemingly contradictory policy toward Israel can be explained in part by the fact that it is well aware that virtue signaling in international fora is meaningless.

Furthermore, Chinese proposals for peace conferences or resolutions, such as President Xi’s four-point peace plan, are but a fig leaf to his “major power diplomacy,” which no side of the dispute takes seriously.

Besides, Beijing is no different in this regard from the majority of countries that criticize Israel and show prejudiced support for the Palestinians, as they maintain warm ties with both. 

While not ideal, Israel could cope with this kind of modus operandi. The trouble began when China broke this tacit arrangement.

China’s biased role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was on full display during the 2021 Israeli-Palestinian crisis in May of last year, when Palestinians fired more than 4,300 rockets into civilian populations. Chinese officials were quick to call out “especially Israel,” while absolving the other party of any accountability or agency. 

Beijing went the extra mile by co-sponsoring a UN Human Rights Council decision to establish an international commission of inquiry against Jerusalem. China also utilized its rotating leadership of the UN Security Council to hold no fewer than five emergency sessions, which would have resulted in the council’s censure of Israel absent US vetoes.

And when it was not dabbling in anti-Semitic canards, Chinese party-state media would amplify anti-Israeli sentiments throughout the month-long conflict. 

Some of the shifts can be explained by China’s rising major-power rivalry with Israel’s most important strategic ally, as part of a larger struggle with the West. To illustrate, Chinese charges became increasingly strident during the May conflict, but oddly enough, it was the US, not Israel, that was blamed for Palestinian misery.

In a recent example, after a meeting on March 27 between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and visiting US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, the Chinese Foreign Ministry used Israel as a battering ram for a non-sequitur attack on US “double standards.” 

Such “anti-Americanism by proxy” is now prominent over Russia’s unilateral attack on Ukraine. As long as it means demonizing the West and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, anything goes, conspiracies included; Chinese party-state commentators have been eager to drag Kiev through the mud, implying it staged the Bucha massacre, and even accusing it of developing bioweapons and causing the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In addition to blaming America, over time, a latent equation has emerged in recent years in which Chinese leaders proclaim unilateral support for Palestinians in exchange for Muslim states’ and organizations’ unilateral support for China’s policies toward its Muslim population.

Moreover, Chinese leaders may believe that standing in solidarity with Palestinians while sanctimoniously preaching about “fairness and justice” help showcase China’s leading role in the Global South, continuing a long tradition of Chinese support for “anti-imperialist” forces. 

Take a page from India’s playbook

India established diplomatic relations with Israel only a week after China, yet their cases could not be more dissimilar.

Like China, India had been disproportionately sympathetic of the Palestinian cause, because of historical inertia, but has since reversed its position, unleashing the full potential of the bilateral political, cultural and business ties. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett would have visited this month to honor the 30th anniversary if he hadn’t contracted Covid. 

Unlike China, India condemns Palestinian terrorism when it occurs. And, while India recognizes the positive contributions of improved relations between Israel and Arab states and wishes to play a constructive role in ensuring the success of the Abraham Accords, China seeks to undermine it by promoting forgettable alternative security frameworks for the Persian Gulf region and – indeed – the whole world.

Despite showing profound and recurring appreciation for the “special historical complexities” of the “Ukraine issue,” China’s unsophisticated approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict harkens back to the Maoist period. It is out of sync with the post-Abraham Accords Middle East, not to mention the friendship it professes to have with Israel after three decades.

To borrow a metaphor used by Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Le Yucheng on Friday to describe Europe’s “Cold War mentality,” perhaps it is time for China to “upgrade its operating system” from its NIMBY mentality.

Follow Tuvia Gering on Twitter @GeringTuvia.

Tuvia Gering

Tuvia Gering is a researcher at the Diane and Guilford Glazer Foundation’s Israel-China Policy Center at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Israel, a non-resident fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub, and a Tikvah Fund’s Krauthammer fellow based in Jerusalem. Follow hin on Twitter @geringtuvia.