China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, met with Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, in Beijing on Monday and expressed hopes of “peaceful coexistence” between China and the United States, even as escalating violence in the Middle East threatens to deepen a wedge between the two powers.
“We have 1,000 reasons to make China-U.S. relations work well and not a single reason to make China-U.S. relations bad,” Mr. Xi said while meeting with the Democratic senator from New York.
Mr. Xi’s amicable tone is likely to increase expectations that he will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation gathering in San Francisco in November and meet with President Biden. Doing so would cap a tumultuous year for U.S.-China relations that reached a low in February after the discovery of a Chinese surveillance balloon over the United States.
Still, the specter of a growing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians could complicate any bid to improve ties between Beijing and Washington.
Mr. Schumer, who is in China leading a bipartisan congressional delegation, told Mr. Xi that he was “disappointed” by China’s lack of sympathy for Israel in its official response to the attack by Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, on Israel.
“I urge you and the Chinese people to stand with the Israeli people and condemn the cowardly and vicious attacks,” Mr. Schumer told Mr. Xi.
Mr. Schumer said during a news conference after the meeting with Mr. Xi that he had requested that “China use its influence in Iran to not allow the conflagration to spread.”
“They have influence with Iran in many different ways, and we asked them to do everything they could to not have Iran spread this conflagration through themselves and through Hezbollah,” he said, referring to the Lebanese militant group backed by Tehran.
Asked how the Chinese side responded, Mr. Schumer said, “They said they would deliver the message.”
China has refrained from condemning Hamas for the attacks, opting instead to continue casting itself as a neutral party in the long-running conflict.
“China is a common friend of both Israel and Palestine,” Mao Ning, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry in Beijing, said at a regular news briefing on Monday.
An editorial published on Monday in the Global Times, which is affiliated with a mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, blamed Western countries for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an effort it said was led by the United States. It also warned that taking sides on the issue now would only add “fuel to the fire.”
China will most likely face growing pressure to support Israel — not unlike the calls that Beijing is facing to push Russia to end its fighting in Ukraine.
Yuval Waks, a senior official at the Israeli Embassy in Beijing, said on Sunday that he expected “stronger condemnation” of Hamas from China.
Tuvia Gering, an expert on Chinese foreign policy at the Diane and Guilford Glazer Center at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, said on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, that “China’s moral compass” was “broken.”
“As the Jewish Talmud says, silence is acquiescence,” Mr. Gering wrote on Monday.
While China and Israel maintain robust trade and investment ties, particularly as it relates to technology and infrastructure, their relationship is ultimately restrained by Israel’s deep alignment with the United States and China’s friendship with Iran.
China has a strategic interest in trying to be friends with all governments in the region; it garners much of its oil imports from the Middle East and considers it a key node along its Belt and Road trade network.
As the United States has drawn down its presence in the region, Mr. Xi has even tried to enhance his clout in the Middle East by helping restore diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, two archrivals, in March. The next month, China offered to mediate Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Though those talks never gained momentum, experts say China could still contribute in a constructive way by offering to mediate the release of civilian hostages held by Hamas. One of those hostages is believed to be a woman of Chinese descent who was abducted Saturday by militants at a music festival, the Chinese Embassy in Israel said on the Chinese platform Weibo on Sunday.
“China has an opportunity to showcase its leadership and mediation prowess in a more substantial way,” said Gedaliah Afterman, the head of the Asia Policy Program at the Abba Eban Institute for Diplomacy and Foreign Relations at Reichman University in Israel.
“Successfully doing so,” he added, “would not only mitigate regional tensions but also solidify China’s reputation as a key player in fostering de-escalation and sustaining regional stability.”
Reporting was contributed by Olivia Wang, Zixu Wang, Keith Bradsher and Alexandra Stevenson.