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Visits indicate China playing bigger role in Middle East

By Cheng Guangjin and Pu Zhendong | China Daily | Updated: 2013-05-06 08:12

China is expected to play a bigger role in promoting peace in the Middle East, hosting visits by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week.

Abbas arrived in Beijing on Sunday for a three-day visit, one day ahead of Netanyahu, who will stay in China until Friday.

Analysts played down speculation over whether Abbas and Netanyahu will meet in China but said hosting the two leaders almost simultaneously shows that China is willing to do more for the Middle East peace process.

Hua Liming, a former Chinese ambassador to Iran and an expert in Middle East studies, said it's hard to say whether the timing is coincidental or intentional, but the fact that Abbas and Netanyahu "don't mind showing up in China at the same time has left the world with a lot of expectations for their visits".

Palestinian and Israeli leaders seldom have overlapping schedules when visiting another country, except for the United States, Hua noted.

Abbas told Xinhua on Friday that he will let the Chinese leaders know the barriers currently rooted in the Palestinians' talks with Israel since he "expects Beijing's contribution to the stalled peace process".

"It is very good that Netanyahu will visit China too because it is a good opportunity for the Chinese to listen to both of us," Abbas said.

The visits by Abbas and Netanyahu come nearly a month after the US Secretary of State John Kerry and Abbas discussed reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Compromise unlikely

Hua said resuming peace talks between the two sides still face obstacles because they are unlikely to compromise over issues including division of the land, Palestine refugees and the status of Jerusalem.

"These issues are not only between Palestine and Israel but involve the whole Arab world," said Hua.

Peace and stability in the Middle East is a major concern for China, said Hua.

"China hopes to contribute to peace between Palestine and Israel, play a positive role and be a responsible power," he said.

Qu Xing, head of the China Institute of International Studies, said China has been actively promoting the peace process of the Middle East and mediating between Palestine and Israel and hopes the arrangement of their visits this time will be helpful in facilitating peace talks. But whether Abbas and Netanyahu can meet in China also depends on the schedules of the three countries' leaders, Qu said.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a daily news conference on Friday that if Palestinian and Israeli leaders are willing to meet in China, China will provide all necessary assistance.

Qu said because of the delicate situation in the Middle East and China's increasing influence, the two countries leaders will be sure to talk about their peace visions for the region with Chinese leaders during their talks.

"If they would like to send out a certain message, I think the Chinese leaders will be happy to help it get passed on and do more in promoting the peace process," Qu said.

Bilateral ties

Despite the attention on the peace process in the Middle East, Hua said the main focus of the visits will be on bilateral relations.

China's investment and infrastructure construction will be included in talks between Abbas and Chinese leaders.

Hua said China and the Palestinians have a traditional friendship, and China's support for Palestine in past decades has won its respect and trust.

Differences over the Palestinian issue remain between China and Israel but they do not harm bilateral ties, Hua said, adding that Netanyahu's visit this time is expected to result in more economic and trade cooperation between the two countries.

Netanyahu is set to begin his visit in Shanghai, where he will meet business leaders, before flying to Beijing for talks with Chinese leaders.

He is expected to sign several bilateral deals with China in sectors such as agriculture and water during his visit, with the aim of boosting bilateral trade worth about $10 billion, Reuters reported.

It is the first trip by a top Israeli leader to China since former prime minister Ehud Olmert's trip in 2007.

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