Chinese leader Xi Jinping conveyed via his ambassador to Israel that he is looking forward to hosting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later in the year in Beijing, the Prime Minister’s Office said Wednesday.
The announcement came amid strained ties between Israel and the United States over the government’s controversial judicial overhaul and far-right policies. The US has expressed wariness in the past over Israel’s ties with its geopolitical rival.
Netanyahu met with China’s Ambassador Cai Run and was gifted with an autographed copy of Jinping’s book.
“The ambassador said the [Chinese] president is looking forward to the meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which will be held later this year in Beijing,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said.
Netanyahu’s trip to China was initially planned for this month, but sources in the Prime Minister’s Office have said they believe it will take place in October, after the Jewish High Holidays.
While Netanyahu said he had updated the White House before the planned visit was announced, some analysts and former security chiefs have expressed concern that such a trip risks further straining ties with Washington, given longstanding US concern about China expanding its influence across the globe.
The prime minister has been seeking an invite to the White House but has been kept at arm’s length by President Joe Biden, as his administration has criticized the government’s judicial overhaul push and policies in the West Bank, while Israel has fretted over a potential interim nuclear deal between Iran and the US.
It took until a phone call between the two last week for Biden to agree to meet with Netanyahu, following seven months of refraining from such a sit-down, though it remained unclear where and when that meeting would take place.
Netanyahu had assured the Biden administration in recent months that he was working to secure broad support for the judicial changes his government is seeking to pass, but decided last month to move forward with the controversial legislation after negotiations with the opposition broke down.
Despite large protests and continued mass public opposition, the Knesset on Monday ratified a law that prevents Israeli courts from reviewing the “reasonableness” of government and ministerial decisions. The bill passed its third and final reading with 64 votes in favor and 0 against, as the entire 56-member opposition boycotted the vote in protest.
The US State Department emphasized on Tuesday that the Biden administration will not cut aid to Israel, despite its opposition to the legislation.
Lazar Berman contributed to this report.