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China sends an envoy to the Middle East in a sign of its ambition to play larger role – ABC News

China has sent an envoy to the Middle East to push for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in the latest sign of its ambition to play a larger role in the region

In this photo provided by the Chinese Embassy in Qatar via Xinhua News Agency, Zhai Jun, left, special envoy of the Chinese government on the Middle East issue, meets with Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Presidential Representative for the Middle East and Africa Mikhail Bogdanov in Doha, Qatar, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023. (Chinese Embassy in Qatar/Xinhua via AP)

BEIJING — China has sent an envoy to the Middle East to push for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in the latest sign of its ambition to play a larger role in the region.

Envoy Zhai Jun’s first meetings included one in Qatar with a Russian counterpart on Thursday as the two countries stake out a position at odds with the American approach.

The two sides confirmed their “unwavering focus on closely coordinating efforts for the political settlement of this and other crises in the Middle East and North Africa region,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry said, according to the country’s Tass state news agency.

China, which sees the U.S. as too pro-Israel, has said it opposes attacks on civilians but has not condemned the initial Hamas attack that started the latest war. Instead, it has called for an immediate cease-fire to protect civilians as Israel bombards Gaza before a possible ground invasion.

“We believe that when dealing with hot-spot issues in the international community, major powers should be objective and impartial,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said Friday.

Analysts say that China wants to position itself as a mediator and exert its influence in the region as the U.S. shifts its global attention elsewhere. But the latest Gaza war has drawn the U.S. back in, with President Joe Biden visiting Israel this week.

Zhai held meetings in Qatar with Mikhail Bogdanov, the Russian president’s special representative for the Middle East and Africa, and with Qatar’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Mohammed Abdulaziz al-Khulaifi, Mao said.

She added that Zhai would travel to other Mideast countries but did not give any details on which ones or when.

Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly told Chinese leader Xi Jinping this week that “Egypt and other Arab countries highly appreciate China’s consistent and just position on the Palestinian question and expect China to play a bigger role in solving the current crisis,” according to a Chinese statement on their meeting.

Xi told Madbouly, who was in Beijing to attend a forum on China’s Belt and Road infrastructure-building initiative, that the top priority is to stop the fighting and prevent it from causing a severe humanitarian crisis.

He said China “stands ready to strengthen coordination with Egypt and other Arab countries to work for a comprehensive, just and enduring solution to the Palestinian question,” the Chinese statement said.

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