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China steps up role in Mideast | Tulsa World

May 7, 2013

 

China is hosting both the Palestinian and Israeli leaders this week in a sign of its desire for a larger role in the Middle East.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was welcomed Monday by Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing , as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began a visit to the financial hub of Shanghai. Abbas also met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

Netanyahu is due in Beijing on Wednesday.

China’s Foreign Ministry said last week it was willing to help set up a meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu if the two men wanted. Talks between the Israeli and Palestinian sides have been deadlocked for four years.

China has traditionally maintained a low profile in Middle East diplomacy, but in recent years has tried to play a more active role in its quest for markets, resources and diplomatic influence. Beijing has sought stable relations with both sides in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but Israel’s weekend airstrike on a Syrian military complex created a turbulent start to China’s diplomatic foray.

Asked about playing host to Netanyahu following the airstrike, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying avoided criticizing Israel by name but said, “We oppose the use of force and believe any country’s sovereignty should be respected.”

Still, Hua reiterated that China’s hosting the two leaders should be positive for promoting regional peace. “China thinks it is of great significance to help facilitate the Middle East peace process, and would like to make positive and constructive efforts in helping resume peace talks between Palestine and Israel,” Hua said in Beijing.

Meeting with Xi at the Great Hall of the People, the seat of China’s legislature, Abbas reviewed the history of their relations back to the 1960s and said the two sides shared the “same views on many world problems.”

China recognized the Palestinian state in 1988, four years before establishing diplomatic ties with Israel.

Netanyahu’s visit is the first by an Israeli leader since Ehud Olmert visited in 2007, and is expected to include the signing of numerous trade deals. China is a major customer for Israeli know-how, from high-technology to agriculture, engineering and military hardware and services, including the training of Chinese security forces and purchase of unmanned aerial vehicles.

Hua, of the Foreign Ministry, said China wanted to see a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict that allowed for both Israeli security and a Palestinian state.

China steps up role in Mideast | Tulsa World.

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