China said to backtrack on sending team to probe death of ambassador in Israel

Beijing reportedly confirms Du Wei, 57, died unexpectedly ‘of health reasons’ in his home in Herzliya; body to be repatriated Wednesday after ceremony

Then-Chinese ambassador to Ukraine Du Wei, left, speaks at a ceremonial reception to mark the upcoming 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in Kiev, Ukraine, on September 24, 2019  (Sergey Starostenko/Xinhua via AP)
Then-Chinese ambassador to Ukraine Du Wei, left, speaks at a ceremonial reception to mark the upcoming 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in Kiev, Ukraine, on September 24, 2019 (Sergey Starostenko/Xinhua via AP)

The Chinese government has backtracked on its plan to dispatch investigators to Israel to probe the death of its ambassador, Hebrew media reported Monday.

Du Wei, 57, died at his home in Herzliya on Sunday, apparently from natural causes, a statement from Beijing said.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian confirmed that Du died unexpectedly “of health reasons,” according to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.

“We are deeply saddened by the death of Ambassador Du and would like to extend our deepest condolences to his family. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is currently conducting the follow-up work,” Zhao said, according to the paper.

According to a Haaretz report on Sunday, the special team was going to carry out “an independent investigation” and would also make arrangements to fly Wei’s body back to China for burial.

The Globes website reported that Du’s body will be repatriated on Wednesday following a ceremony that will be attended by Israeli dignitaries, although it was unknown if newly appointed Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi will be present.

The website said that deputy ambassador Dai Yuming would assume Du’s role for the foreseeable future.

Israeli police and forensic experts gather in front of the residence of Israel’s Chinese ambassador, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, after he was found dead, on May 17, 2020. (Jack GUEZ / AFP)

Israel’s Foreign Ministry announced on Sunday morning that Du had been found dead at his official residence in the coastal town of Herzliya.

According to the Ynet news site, aides tried to wake Du and found him in his bed, not breathing. The initial assessment was that he had suffered cardiac arrest during the night.

There were no external signs of violence on Du’s body.

In its statement, the Foreign Ministry said director-general Yuval Rotem spoke with deputy ambassador Dai and expressed his condolences, adding that the ministry would provide any assistance it could.

Police on the scene where Chinese Ambassador to Israel Du Wei was found dead, May 17, 2020 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Du was married and had one son, the ministry said, adding that his family members were not in Israel with him.

He arrived in Israel on February 15 to take up his post, and immediately spent two weeks in quarantine due to coronavirus regulations. He was unable to present his credentials to President Reuven Rivlin in person due to the pandemic.

Du, who was born in Shandong Province, was a professional diplomat who had previously served in Ukraine.

There was no immediate comment from Chinese officials.

The ambassador’s death came two days after he condemned comments by visiting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who denounced Chinese investments in Israel and accused China of hiding information about the coronavirus outbreak.

State Department officials said a main topic of discussion during Pompeo’s visit was Washington’s concerns over Israel’s trade relationship with China, citing its lack of transparency and problematic trade practices.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his Jerusalem residence, May 13, 2020 (Kobi Gideon/PMO)

On Friday, the Chinese embassy assailed the US administration, saying the accusations were “absurd” and that it hoped its “Jewish friends” in Israel would not only succeed in defeating the virus but also the “political virus” — an apparent reference to the accusations leveled at Beijing by Pompeo.

The statement also said that “Jewish friends know… well” that historically, “pandemic is accompanied by conspiracies and the dark mentality of seeking scapegoats.”

Senior security officials in both countries have sounded alarm bells over Chinese involvement in infrastructure projects, warning they are a security risk and could jeopardize ties with the US.

Chinese Ambassador to Israel Du Wei (R) meeting with Israeli Foreign Ministry Deputy Director-General for Asia and the Pacific Gilad Cohen, March 23, 2020. (MFA)

The embassy in its statement said Pompeo has long claimed there are security risks in cooperation with China, “without producing any concrete evidence.”

It said Israeli-Chinese cooperation was “win-win in nature,” and it claimed the assertions of a Chinese “buy up” of Israel was ridiculous, as “China’s investment in Israel only accounts for 0.4 percent of China’s investment across the world and 3% of the foreign investment flown into Israel.”

In October, under pressure from the US, Israel’s security cabinet announced the formation of a new advisory panel to review foreign investments in the country.

Pompeo and US President Donald Trump have also increasingly blamed China as coronavirus infection and death rates in the US have ballooned, saying it hid information about the outbreak during its initial stages and claiming there was evidence the virus had been accidentally released from a Chinese lab, though they have provided no corroboration.

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