China will play 'constructive role in Middle East', Xi Jinping tells visiting Israeli President Shimon Peres
Iran's nuclear programme and stalled peace talks with Palestinians likely to be discussed during visit of 91-year-old Israeli president
President Xi Jinping pledged China would continue to play a constructive role in the Middle East peace talks, as he received visiting Israeli President Shimon Peres yesterday.
Xinhua reported that Xi told Peres that Israeli-Palestinian peace talks had entered a critical stage, as they met at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.
China hoped that Israel would set its sights on regional peace and push for real progress in peace talks with the Palestinians and the international community, Xinhua reported, citing Xi.
Peres said Israel hoped that Beijing would continue to play an important role in mediating the peace talks, Xinhua reported.
Beijing is keen to get a stronger foothold in the Middle East, which is outside its traditional sphere of influence. Last year, Beijing set up a task force to boost trade with Israel during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit - immediately after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas concluded his own China tour.
Yao Jiande, an expert on Middle East affairs at Yunnan University, said Israel was expected to urge China to flex its political influence over Iran.
"Israel is worried about Iran's nuclear programme. It hopes that China can help co-ordination in the P5 plus 1 group [the five UN Security Council permanent members China, Russia, France, the US and Britain, plus Germany] plus Iran, sending a clear signal to Tehran [that it] should not develop nuclear weapons," Yao said.
"China will probably tell Israel that it supports non-proliferation, but that there should be a clear differentiation between civilian and military nuclear use."
In a regular press briefing yesterday, foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei called for Iran and six world powers to be flexible in the latest nuclear talks that started yesterday in Vienna.
"China hopes all parties show flexibility, take a practical stance, address each other's concerns and solve their differences to accumulate consensus and create favorable conditions for a breakthrough," the spokesman said.
The 91-year-old Israeli president started his three-day visit yesterday in quintessential Chinese style: by opening a Sina Weibo account.
"Shalom, my Chinese friends," Peres said in his first post on the massively popular platform, where he quickly garnered nearly 50,000 followers.
"I'm very happy to open my weibo account and to have a direct dialogue with Chinese netizens," he said.
Maintaining strong relations with China is a key agenda for Peres. He told The Jerusalem Post on Monday night that enhanced relations with the world's second-largest economy and regional superpower would be benefit both Israel and China.
Xi told Peres that China was willing to boost co-operation with Israel on agriculture, energy, environmental protection, education, medical care and technological innovation.
Yao said China was keen to boost its presence in the Middle East by securing energy deals and ensuring that extremist religious views do not spread to China's mainly Muslim western regions.
"China also wants to boost military trade with the Middle East, and that's why it is stepping up engagement with nations there," he said.