U.S. Senate Majority Leader Schumer said Monday he was grateful for a strengthened statement from China condemning the killing and kidnapping of Israeli and foreign civilians by Hamas, issued during a bipartisan congressional visit to Beijing that included a lengthy meeting with President Xi Jinping.
Schumer led a delegation of six senators to China for talks aimed at stabilizing ties following a sharp deterioration in recent years over trade, U.S. support for self-governing Taiwan, human rights and other issues. The delegation, which included three Democrats and three Republicans, was the first visit by U.S. lawmakers since 2019 and came at a time of growing attacks on China in Congress as America contends with Beijing’s rise as a global power.
Schumer told Foreign Minister Wang Yi earlier in the day that he had been very disappointed by China’s failure to strongly condemn the attack on Israel and show sympathy for the country and its people.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said later Monday that China is “deeply saddened by the civilian casualties caused by the conflict between Palestine and Israel.”
“China opposes and condemns acts that harm civilians,” along with actions that “expand conflict and undermine regional stability,” Mao said, going beyond an initial Foreign Ministry statement on Sunday.
China hopes for a resumption of peace talks, the implementation of a two-state solution, and a “comprehensive and proper settlement of the Palestinian issue, which guarantees the legitimate concerns of all parties, through political means, as early as possible,” Mao said at a daily briefing.
The Chinese Embassy in Israel said a young woman of Israeli and Chinese heritage was among the scores of hostages seized by Hamas fighters, who killed at least 800 people in Israel.
“Noa was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists when attending a peace music festival in southern Israel. She was dragged from Israel to Gaza,” an embassy statement said. “She is a daughter, a sister and a friend.”
Schumer’s delegation also met with the head of China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the commerce minister and Wang, the country’s highest-ranking diplomat. Xi’s comments were not immediately reported, and Wang did not respond before journalists were escorted out of the room.
Schumer said he had made a direct request to Xi to strengthen the Foreign Ministry’s statement on the Hamas attack and the “horrible, gut-wrenching loss of civilian life,” which had been omitted from the earlier missive.
“I’m gratified the Foreign Ministry issued a new statement that did condemn the loss of civilian life,” he told reporters at a news conference following the conclusion of meetings.
Schumer’s meeting with Xi ran to 80 minutes — 20 more than scheduled — emphasizing the careful preparation and highly detailed nature of the discussions, the senator said. He said the U.S. side asserted its concerns about the lack of reciprocity and the need for a “”level playing field” for American businesses in China, and urged China to take measures to prevent the export of chemicals used to make the drug fentanyl, which has fueled a deadly wave of addictions.
“Both sides, the Chinese and us, said unless we have sincere conversations about our differences and not pull any punches, that we would never solve these problems,” Schumer said.
The two governments are trying to arrange a meeting between Presidents Joe Biden and Xi Jinping during a regional summit in San Francisco next month in a bid to manage the increasingly fraught relationship.
China has traditionally backed the Palestinian cause but has also boosted ties with Israel as it seeks a larger role in trade, technology and diplomacy. In recent years, it has stepped up its involvement in the Middle East, assisting in the restoration of ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran and welcoming Syrian President Bashar Assad on a visit to China.
Schumer told Xi that the top priority for the Senate delegation is seeking fair trade between the two countries.
“We want the Chinese people to have economic opportunity. That would be good for America,” he said. “But China must also provide a level playing field for American companies and workers. Many Americans, most Americans including our delegation, do not believe we have that fairness now.”
Earlier, Wang urged the United States to respect China’s core interests and development rights, a frequent refrain as Beijing seeks to counter American restrictions on trade and technology exports that it views as attempts to hold back the country’s economic growth and rise as a global power.
Schumer also urged China to drop its tacit support for what he called Russia’s immoral war against Ukraine, advancing human rights and releasing detained Americans. Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to visit China this month. China says it remains neutral in the conflict, but has refused to condemn Russia’s full-on invasion of Ukraine and has condemned international sanctions imposed on Moscow as a result.
By Nadeem Faisal Baiga