Why does Palestinian Authority support Chinese colonialism?

China’s Vice Premier Liu Yandong shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, last March. Both governments have invoked spurious historical backing for territorial claims that violate international law.

Gil Cohen Magen Xinhua

As preparations were being made in Washington for the Gulf War, a group of Palestinian intellectuals gathered in a Manhattan apartment to discuss how the Palestine Liberation Organization should respond to Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, was among those in attendance. He has confirmed to us that – after much debate – the conclusion was clear: occupation is occupation, no matter who was responsible and even if the impending American war was equally illegitimate.

The group then dispatched Edward Said, a member of the Palestinian National Council, to Tunis.

Said was asked to try to convince Yasser Arafat, the PLO leader, that he should condemn the Iraqi invasion. Arafat ignored Said – and many others – and backed Saddam.

It was a moral and political miscalculation which led to approximately 400,000 Palestinians being expelled or fleeing from Kuwait after Iraqi forces were dislodged in 1991.

The consequences of that decision to defy international law created a heavy burden for the affected families.

Sadly, it was not the last time the Palestinian leadership would opt for political expediency over international law. This year, the Palestinian Authority has supported China in its territorial claim over the South China Sea.

This was a misguided decision for Palestinian representatives, whose moral and political case rests entirely on the pillars of international humanitarian and human rights law.

Indeed, international instruments have proven important to the Palestinian struggle and have the potential to do so again. In 2004, the International Court of Justice stated that Israel’s wall inside the West Bank was illegal.

Israel perturbed

Last year – after Israel had pummeled the Gaza Strip in three major attacks since 2008 – the PA acceded to the International Criminal Court with a view to prosecuting senior Israeli officers for war crimes.

Israel and its supporters are clearly perturbed by efforts to prosecute Israel. The pro-Israel lobby has complained that such efforts are occurring. Holding Israel accountable for violating international law is viewed as intolerable by the state’s supporters.

In comparison, the case against China was brought to the Permanent Court of Arbitration – an international body based in The Hague – by the Philippines. The Philippines wanted to challenge the Chinese claim for exclusive control over almost all of the South China Sea – as far as the so-called Nine Dash Line.

The journalist Howard French has detailed Chinese efforts to take control by building habitation on previously uninhabitable islands close to its neighbors. China hopes these “facts on the ground” will make it harder for governments around the world to deny its de facto control of the islands and, thus, the waters around them.

To strengthen its claim to the South China Sea, China has declared Sansha, a “city” with a population of 1,500 civilians, to be of high administrative status within its own governmental structures.

Sacred rights?

China uses spurious historical backing for its claim to own the islands in the South China Sea, while referring to its “sacred rights” over the sea in official propaganda.

French describes the historical claims made by Chinese institutions that Chinese control over the sea dates back to the Tang Dynasty in the ninth century. Such claims, he notes, lack historical evidence to support them.

Indeed, the names that the Chinese have given to the disputed shoals belie these claims. The names are phoneticized versions of the titles given by westerners in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The Chinese development of the tiny islands and reefs is highly reminiscent of the Israeli practice of settlement-building in the occupied West Bank.

Israel has also drawn extensively on “sacred” historical rights to justify a moral claim over territory which international law does not permit.

Echoing the attitude of Israel to the International Court of Justice, China also refused to recognize the decision against it by the Permanent Court of Arbitration.


In media statements, Abbas Zaki, a PA diplomat handling relations with Beijing, fully endorsed all of China’s claims.

In one startling statement, he argued that it was unacceptable for the PA that the Philippines should “push hard” for a binding resolution to the dispute, preferring to allow a negotiated resolution based on Chinese “wisdom.” This is the kind of argument that the US has made, when efforts have been made to hold Israel accountable.

The PA’s statements amount to the endorsement of a maritime occupation by China, a country that is seeking a free trade deal with Israel.

In recent years, Israel has also been a key supplier of weapons to China. Although Israel halted a major arms deal with China under US pressure in 2000, military cooperation between Israel and China appears to have continued.

One Chinese arms manufacturer has even noted in a catalogue that its advanced fire control radar is identical to the ELM-2052 manufactured by Elta, an Israeli weapons company.

Strikingly, China has behaved in a manner similar to Israel in pursuing occupation policies. In 1950, China invaded Tibet. That was just two years after the Nakba, the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians by Zionist forces.

Resistance to the invasion of Tibet has been brutally repressed and the Chinese occupation of the territory continues today.

Palestinian representatives surely have a moral duty to demonstrate solidarity with other oppressed and occupied peoples – including the Tibetans.

Of course, international law is as much about politics as it is about the rule of law. There is no global police and the powers of the various international courts are limited.

International law is vital, however, in preventing crimes of aggression. If states undermine or ignore international law because of political expediency, then the system itself will always be subject to the whims of power politics.

Instead, states should support international law even when it is not in their interest. That way the system will become stronger at a time when we need more effective global decision-making structures.

To be sure, the PA leadership needs to be smart at the political game. China backed the Palestinian bid for statehood, which led to Palestinian accession to the International Criminal Court.

But to openly support Chinese violations of international law harms the system and the credibility of any Palestine-led claims through that system.

One option might have been for the PA to abstain from any comment on the matter.

And should there be any uncertainty about the impact of choosing political expediency over international law, then the PA leadership need only ask their fellow Palestinians which side to choose.

The experience of Palestinian refugees expelled from Kuwait or, indeed, forced to live in the shadow of Israeli settlements in the West Bank illustrates why military occupations must always be opposed.

Eoin Murray is a journalist based in Edmonton, Alberta. Since 2004 he has worked for a variety of local and international organizations in the Middle East region. James Mehigan is a lecturer in criminology at the Open University and a barrister specializing in human rights. They are currently co-editing a book of essays by Palestinian and Israeli human rights defenders.




When the next general election comes, and the next election for President, the Palestinian electorate will no doubt hold their politicians to account for their actions.


in its attacks on "Chinese colonialism" which is not exist at all?
PA is a bad joke, a proven lackeys of both Zionist colonizers and USA imperialism, and thus 100% irrelevant.
But to attack China for "colonizing" some rocks in South China (!) sea is the plot by USA imperialists which do their worst to subjugate China (and others too) to their hegemony or else (see Iraq, Libya, Syria and so on).
Saddam's attack on Kuwait had been partially provoked by USA ambassador, and used by USA imperialism to ruin Iraq, which had been a supporter of Palestine, among other things. And to equate it to China's reclaiming some rocks in South China sea is ridiculous, if not sinister.
I wonder why EI sees no better use of its pages than to whitewash PA and to back USA imperialism?


lie about Tibet too. Tibet people are NOT in the same position as Palestinians. They are not ethnic cleansed, and they are officially citizens of China, and by law have the same right as other citizens.
Look like these authors use and abuse EI to parrot USA imperialist propaganda under the guise of friendship to Palestine - some friends who speak about PA as not of the corrupt tool of the Zionist colonizers but as some body with legit authority.


Putting this into historical perspective, from what I read this may be more a matter of Chinese concerns of wishing to keep its coastline safe and secure than "Chinese colonialism."

Was it not Great Britain and other western imperialist powers that occupied large swaths of China (in the process flooding China with British opium) in the 19th and early 20th centuries, until Mao threw them out?

China does not wish to see their return. China just does not want to see the US Navy and proxies hanging off its coast and lobbing nuclear missiles at it.

I ask you, what would US imperialists do if Russian and Chinese fleets hung outside New York Harbor, Rhode Island Sound, San Clemente Island, San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound or the Gulf of Mexico? If the Cuban missile crisis was any indicator, methinks they would go "bat guano."

As one sees imperialists do not play fair.


Here are two links on historical conditions inside Tibet from two rather different perspectives

The first by Michael Parenti.


The second by Joshua Michael Schrei.


Will leave it to the reader to decide what critique- account is closer to actual historical conditions inside Tibet.


Despite the smiling jovial benign public image of the Dalai Lama, religious institutions are by and large retrograde. Whether clerical institutions inside Tibet were historically closer to the Catholic Church during the time of the Inquisition and Cardinal Torquemada or the Catholic Church of today (which is still somewhat retrograde) will not say. However, there is one thing that can not be debated, Chinese (Mongol) involvement in Tibet goes back at least to the 13th Century CE and the time of the Yuan Dynasty.

This predates the unification of England under Henry VII by a century.


This article is clearly not about the so-called "Palestinian Authority", whose sins are many.
I didn't expect to see such a clear example of China-bashing on the EI.


Yes, clearly it must not be about Palestine. And what a fool I was too. Here I thought that the Chinese analogy was just one of several, the authors used, to try to make a point about a very important and chronic conundrum faced by Palestinian leadership, with regard to international law and the major powers who selfishly and cynically break it and in turn, Palestine's future.
But judging by this forum, you are right - clearly.


and in the process also parroting another piece of USA imperialist propaganda. And it was NOT "Chinese analogy", whoever false, it was seconding USA imperialist attack on China while pretending that PA is a "Palestinian leadership" and not a tool of Zionist oppression.
The forum have the temerity to point to such "trifles", and I believe that it is NOT a help to Palestine liberation to prop PA, regardless of what they do and not do with China or every other case.


Thank you Lydia, for keeping this discussion alive, I see this article as a real opportunity to get at that most central aspect of the occupation; Palestinian leadership.
First, let me say that on the issue of the Chinese’ crossing of international law; I agree with much of what has been said here. Both with the invasion of Tibet and with the illegal expansion of Chinese maritime boundaries, actions were taken with a compelling national self-interest, where international law acts, within the biased context of accepted precedent, as a tool for post-colonial, neo-liberal national powers.
That said and no matter how unfair the analogies, the fact remains that they did, in both instances, break international law. And any and every infraction serves to diminish that law. The challenge for us as global citizens, who view that law as essential to our future, is to prevent infractions by making them unprofitable.
We are very far from being able to enforce the law because we are completely reliant on the very nation-states that can and do break it, whenever they deem it in their national interest, to support it. For that reason, our only course of action is to stand up for international law and relevant treaties, in our respective countries and to encourage others to do the same.
The authors contend that it’s in Palestine’s self-interest to support the law even at the expense of possibly losing support from the Chinese (especially at the UN). You and others have labeled Abbas a shill for Israel and its western allies, yet in taking the position he has, Abbas stands directly opposed to US policy, as does Israel apparently. Yet this isn’t about Abbas lining up with Israel at all.
It’s about competing with Israel for influence with a major world power.


powerful are willing to obey it - that is, it is no relevant at all, and not because of China, by the way.
And I am aware of no law China broke in the South China Sea, so let us return to the point. Yes, Abbas is a tool of Zionist colonizers and he proofs it every day when PA is making Zionist colonization cheaper and less difficult to the colonizers.
And knowing his dirty role Abbas tries sometimes to pretend that he is not who he is, so he utters some senseless words. I am not going to put ANY attention to any (!) word of his, just as I was not going to any word of South Vietnam rulers, for ex.


Relevant ruling; https://www.scribd.com/documen...
And comparing Abbas to South Vietnams leaders is even less fair, far less than these authors analogies.
I'm sorry to see what is a very debatable issue fall victim to what's beginning to sound more vindictive that truth seeking. If we are truly searching for truth and justice we have to do so with courage and honesty and without prejudice, we owe that to those providing us with a cause.


Pathetically, it’s a game Abbas can’t win and it was one Arafat couldn’t win either. Israel is strong and actively seeks to form its own “coalition of the willing” with anyone it can appeal to and it has weapons and technology and more to offer those who may not find the stuff so easily otherwise. Palestine has nothing to offer China except the dwindling propaganda value of its status as a victim of western imperialism. What you see as a traitor to Palestine is really a whore for it.
He’s doing what he knows is wrong because he sees no viable alternative. He alone is forced under a media spotlight that makes him look like Israel’s b***h when we all know it’s all of Palestine that’s being screwed daily, humiliatingly, maddeningly, mercilessly. And although we may not fully realize it, we really are all Palestinians on this one.
Though I may not entirely agree with their reasoning, I agree with the author’s conclusion… I think. That, because I don’t know all that Abbas does about the circumstances and possible consequences of his very, very difficult decision.


Lydia, several years ago, roughly 2005 - 2012 or so, China bashing was at about it's peak since the cold war. The Falun Gong expatriate Tibetan, independence movement was very active and well received, world wide. Here in my town, they were welcomed in our state capitol - where just a few years later our own public was locked out - with a free pass to display their very ugly anti-Chinese propaganda, consisting of photos of the dead, dying and mutilated, from who knows where. These were supposedly Tibetans who said too much. They were living with well-heeled, spiritually bereft, privileged citizens, meeting congressmen and other important personages and they were getting nothing but positive press.
On two occasions, I visited their propaganda exhibit and took up pages of their guest log, decrying their movement as "an imperialist tool". I took chances with friendships because I struggled with anyone whom I believed was falling for their dangerous claptrap. I wrote letters regularly to our two dailies in a vain effort to stem the tide and I would gladly have taken part in any protest, had their been one.
But there wasn't one, in fact there wasn't anyone else saying anything.
And on whether I view Abbas as a victim; he is I believe a Palestinian, so yes. The problem is he happens to be a scape-goat and one his opponents in Tel-aviv are very pleased to see losing stature because a desperate people can't maintain their perspective on the occupation and how it undermines their leadership, forever. I am a privileged American taxpayer helping maintain that occupation and I have no excuse for losing perspective. So I try hard not to.


and they are not idle threats.
Abbas is a traitor to Palestine, just like Petain was a traitor to France. His Zionist masters like to humiliate him, but it is Zionist colonizers' nature - they humiliate Oabama too, and call him names too.


WWI hero General Petain inherited the unwanted task of administering Vichy France when France inevitably fell to the Germans. Things might have been different had Britain lived up to its bargain with France and come to its aid. But it didn't and Pertain, et al, had a decision to make as to whether they would run occupied France or go underground and conduct guerrilla warfare, as advised by the indomitable chicken hawk, Churchill. For this Pertain was sentenced to death (commuted) and banished to an island prison (commuted) and eventually driven insane by a fickle, ignorant and self-seeking French government (regretted by DeGaulle and many others).
It's understandable that the French resistance is more appealing than surrender but thanks to Pertain, France lived to fight another day and there is still a Paris standing as a beacon of civilization and human excellence.
For a graphic depiction of what would have been the fate of France, sans Pertain, see Monty Python's "Black Knight". Or perhaps Hamas in Gaza in 2014.


Well it seems Lidia has fled, so if there are any of her anti-PA confederates, left to speak for her, I hope they will and with that disabuse me of my whitewashing ways. I truly intend only to stand against the continued occupation of Palestine and the last thing I want is to aid and abet a lackey of the Zionists.
Please, straighten me out!
PS Vlasov is a very interesting subject and I probably would say some nice things about him but I'm afraid he takes us too far afield.


defense (whitewash) of collaborationist. Of course, the defender of Petain must be defender of PA - they are all kindred spirits, I suppose. No wonder that he is also uses only word "occupation" and not "colonization" - "liberal" Zionist colonizers love to pretend that the only problem is occupation - ie the West bank, and not all Palestine being a Zionist colony.
Of course, Ali Abunimah had many times pointed to the real role of PA ie lackeys of Zionist colonization, so I am still a bit surprised why this article has been published in EI


Quite aside from the legitimacy or illegitimacy of China's claims in the South China Sea, I am surprised that anyone should give any credibility to what the PA says or does since it is nothing more than a leading arm of the Israeli occupation regime and has been that since the Oslo agreement in which not only did Yasser Arafat and his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, agree to Israel's occupation of a major part of the West Bank but also agreed to work with Israel in suppressing further Palestinian resistance to the occupation, a promise, that with exception of the Al-Aksa Intifada, it has faithfully carried out. No liberation movement has experienced such a betrayal before achieving its goal and addressing that fact needs to be a priority for those not subjected to Israeli occupation.


I think that given everything at play for Abbas, abstention might have been the best option. But how difficult it would be to sit on his hands whilst Bibi is over there shaking all those Chinese hands.
There is a lot for Abbas to consider in a decision like this and I don't think the author's historical comparisons are altogether fair. I don't like it either and I too would like to see Palestine's leadership remain true to international law but when it comes to UNSC permanent members and Israel, I'm afraid of what might change and make things even worse than they already are there.
If after more suffering and lives lost, much hard work and sacrifice gets statehood up for a vote again, in a climate that makes it very difficult for the US to veto, does Abbas really want China to remember only that it stood up for a Palestine that would not stand up for it?


1) China is not colonialist, and has nothing to do with Zionist colonization of Palestine, Tibet people are not ethnic cleansed or made second-class citizens by law, as Palestinians are.
2) So-called PA is a sick joke, lackeys of USA imperialism and Zionism, they have NO legitimacy at all and their shelf-life is over many years ago. To pretend that PA could or not could do anything relevant is false.