China and Israel vow to deepen relations

Visit to Beijing by Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu sees both sides talk of tighter bonds, including a possible bilateral trade agreement

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 March, 2017, 11:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2017, 12:29am

China on Monday vowed to boost cooperation with Israel in ­Beijing’s latest move to step up engagement with the Middle East, after signing deals worth US$65 billion with Saudi Arabia last week.

In his talks with visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Beijing, Premier Li Keqiang said the two nations should aim at deepening their political trust.

China was “friends to both ­Israel and Palestine” and was willing to play a role in the peace ­process in the Middle East, Li was quoted by CCTV as saying.

Netanyahu told Li before their meeting that “there is a great deal of convulsion in the world” and urged the two countries to advance “security, peace, stability and prosperity”.

On the second day of his three-day trip to China, Netanyahu told a meeting of more than 600 Israeli and Chinese businesspeople that Israel was well positioned to help China upgrade its products and utilities with better technology.

He also met the heads of large corporations, including Dalian Wanda Group and Alibaba Group, which owns the South China Morning Post.

Deng Li, director general of the foreign ministry’s West Asian and North African Affairs Department, said both nations agreed to step up free-trade talks.

“Personally, I am very confident and optimistic about the ­future of this free trade agreement,” Deng said.

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Netanyahu’s trip to China came after Beijing hosted King Salman last Thursday, leading to deals including one to boost Saudi oil exports to China.

China has traditionally played little role in Middle Eastern conflicts or diplomacy, despite its reliance on the region for oil. However, it has been trying to get more involved in efforts to end Syria’s civil war,where Riyadh supports rebels battling President Bashar al-Assad.

In a speech to the Arab League last year, President Xi Jinping showed support for the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Liu Naiya, an observer from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said China and Israel were exploring ways to deepen ­relations amid uncertainties about US foreign policy.

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“Israel is a leading country in the Middle East and with ­immense influence. China can learn from Israel’s high-tech ­industry, and counter US and European influence in the Middle East by levelling up relations with Israel,” Liu said.

Assaf Orion, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, said the Middle East was crucial to China’s “One Belt, One Road” infrastructure and trade scheme.

He said China could promote development in the region, given Beijing’s ability to maintain parallel ties with nations that had bad bilateral relations, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Additional reporting by Reuters and Associated Press