China launched a peace proposal Monday amid visits from the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, in a sign of its desire for a larger role in the Middle East.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas was welcomed by his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing on Monday, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began a visit to the eastern financial hub of Shanghai. Netanyahu is due in Beijing on Wednesday following Abbas’s departure a day earlier.
During his meeting with Abbas, Xi introduced a 4-point peace proposal. The plan calls for an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, based on the 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital. The proposal also states Israel’s right to exist in security and asserts that negotiations are the key to lasting peace between the two peoples.
The proposal calls for an end to settlement activities, violence against civilians, and Israel’s blockade on Gaza, and presses for a resolution to the issue of Palestinian prisoners, saying all are “necessary conditions for the resumption of peace talks,” according to Chinese news reports.
The proposition also urges the international community to become more involved and to encourage the parties to restart negotiations while providing increased assistance to the Palestinians.
China’s Foreign Ministry said last week it would be willing to help set up a meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu if the two men so desire. Talks between the Israeli and Palestinian sides have been deadlocked for four years and there was no indication a meeting would take place.
China’s Premier Li Keqiang also met with Abbas in Beijing Monday. During their meeting, he reaffirmed China’s support to the Palestinian people and pledged that China would provide greater investment into Palestinian projects and use its influence to boost regional stability.
China has traditionally maintained a low profile in Middle East diplomacy, but in recent years has tried to play a more active role in the region as part of 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 airstrikes on Syrian military targets created a turbulent start to China’s diplomatic foray.
Asked by reporters about playing host to Netanyahu following the airstrikes, 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 at a daily media briefing 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, stretching back to the 1960s, and said the two sides shared the “same views on many world problems.
“I appreciate China’s high position in the world nowadays,” Abbas said in opening remarks at the meeting, which was followed by the signing of agreements on technical cooperation and cultural exchanges.
China recognized the Palestinian state in 1988, four years before establishing diplomatic ties with Israel.
In an interview with China’s official Xinhua News Agency last week, Abbas said he wanted to involve China more in the Middle East peace process, and said the dual visits would offer a “good opportunity for the Chinese to listen to both of us.”
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 the purchase of unmanned aerial vehicles.
After touring a high-tech industrial park Monday, Netanyahu spoke to Israeli and Chinese business leaders in Shanghai. He paid tribute to Shanghai’s role as a haven for European Jews fleeing the Holocaust, and then touted the potential for future cooperation combining Israel’s high-tech know-how with China’s manufacturing heft.
“Israel is not as big as China. We have 8 million residents, approximately one-third of the population of Shanghai. But we manufacture more intellectual property than any other country in the world in relation to its size. If we create a partnership between Israel’s inventive capability and China’s manufacturing capability, we will have a winning combination,” Netanyahu said.
Upon landing in Shanghai, Netanyahu said he’d like to see trade between Israel and China rise to $10 billion from its current $8 billion.