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Was Israel erased from Chinese-language digital maps?

Foreign minister denies any change to China-Israel relations

Israel flag with a view of the old city Jerusalem and the Western Wall.
Israel flag with a view of the old city Jerusalem and the Western Wall. | Getty Images

The Israel-Hamas war has renewed attention on social media about the fact that the nation of Israel does not appear on two of the most popular online digital maps produced by Chinese companies. 

The Wall Street Journal noted last week that some "internet users in China are expressing bewilderment" that Chinese tech giants Alibaba and Baidu omit the name of Israel entirely from their Middle East maps.

While Chinese-language maps from Baidu "demarcate the internationally recognized borders of Israel, as well as the Palestinian territories," they don't identify the country "by name," according to WSJ. 

The names of neighboring countries, such as Cyprus, Jordan and Iraq, are still visible on the Baidu maps.

The Alibaba-backed Amap, meanwhile, also identified countries equivalent to the size of modern-day Israel, like Luxembourg, by name while omitting the name of Israel, WSJ reported. 

Chinese-born human rights activist Jennifer Zeng confirmed the report and shared a copy of the Baidu map.

 

China's foreign ministry denied the world's most populous nation changed its stance toward Israel, as the country formally established diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992. In a press conference last Tuesday, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin was asked about the Alibaba and Baidu maps and how they "do not immediately show Israel unless people search for the country on those maps."

A Reuters reporter asked if China requested those platforms remove Israel and if China still recognizes Israel as a sovereign state. 

"I believe you are aware that China and Israel have a normal diplomatic relationship," Wang said, according to an official readout. "As for your questions, the relevant country is clearly marked on the standard maps issued by the Chinese competent authorities, which you may refer to."

Following the surprise Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas that killed over 1,400 people and the Israeli military counter-response in Gaza, the United States, China and other nations have deployed military assets to the region as fears linger that the war could spill over into a regional conflict.

China has since deployed up to six warships to the Middle East as Beijing is said to be "deeply concerned" by the potential for escalation. China's foreign ministry has called for a ceasefire in Gaza. 

In response to the Oct. 7 attack, Israel launched retaliatory airstrikes and ground offensive in Gaza. The Hamas-run health authorities say over 10,000 people have been killed since the airstrikes began. The Hamas numbers don't differentiate between combatants and civilians. 

"It is imperative that a ceasefire be put in place, that the two sides be brought back to the negotiating table, and that an emergency humanitarian channel be established to prevent a further humanitarian disaster," China Foreign Minister Wang Yi said during a meeting with his Russian counterpart last month, according to Reuters

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