Blinken asks China to use 'influence' for Middle East calm

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi during a meeting in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia July 9, 2022.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Saturday on China, a partner of Iran, to use its influence to push for calm in the Middle East after Hamas militants struck Israel, provoking retaliation and fears that violence will spread.

The top US diplomat, who was visiting Saudi Arabia, had a "productive" one-hour telephone call with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

"Our message was that he thinks it's in our shared interest to stop the conflict from spreading." Miller told reporters on Blinken's plane from Riyadh to Abu Dhabi.

"He thought it could be useful if China could use its influence."

China has a warm relationship with Iran, whose clerical leadership supports both Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group ruling Gaza that carried out grisly attacks inside Israel a week ago, and Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group that could open a second front against Israel.

Wang for his part said that the United States should "play a constructive and responsible role, pushing the issue back on track for a political settlement as soon as possible," according to a readout published by the Chinese foreign ministry.

"When dealing with international hot-spot issues, major countries must adhere to objectivity and fairness, maintain calmness and restraint, and take the lead in abiding by international law," said Wang.

The Chinese foreign minister added that Beijing called for "the convening of an international peace meeting as soon as possible to promote the reaching of broad consensus".

"The fundamental outlet for the Palestinian issue lies in implementing a 'two-state solution'," said Wang.

Cease fire call

China's official statements on the conflict have not specifically named Hamas in their condemnations of violence, leading to criticism from some Western officials who said they were too weak.

The United States considers China to be its main global challenger but the two powers have been working to stabilise their relationship, with Blinken paying a rare visit to Beijing in June.

Miller said the Middle East was an example of areas where the two powers could work together.

Earlier this year, China brokered a deal in which Iran and Saudi Arabia restored ties after a seven-year rupture.

In a separate call on Saturday, Saudi foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan told Wang that China should use its position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to push "for an immediate cessation of military operations" in Gaza, according to the Saudi foreign ministry.

The phone call between Blinken and Wang also included a discussion on China-US relations, which have been heavily strained in recent years by a range of thorny trade and geopolitical issues.

But Wang suggested there were some positive signs.
"China and the United States have recently carried out a series of high-level contacts, and bilateral relations appear to have stopped sliding and to stabilise," he said.

"(This) has been welcomed by the people of the two countries and the international community."