BEIJING: China will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas next week for separate bilateral talks as it tries to shore up its role in a region where its diplomatic influence is limited.
Netanyahu’s visit — the first trip by a top Israeli leader to China since former prime minister Ehud Olmert visited in 2007 — will be focused on trade, though experts have also said he is likely to discuss Iran’s nuclear programmeme with China.
China, Iran’s top oil customer and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has opposed unilateral sanctions on Tehran such as those imposed by Washington and the European Union and has called repeatedly for talks to resolve the stand-off over Iran’s nuclear programme.
Netanyahu is set to arrive on Monday in China’s commercial capital of Shanghai, where he will meet business leaders, and fly to Beijing after for talks with Chinese leaders.
Abbas will arrive in Beijing on Sunday. It is unclear whether Netanyahu and Abbas will meet in China.
China’s foreign ministry said the country “is willing to offer necessary assistance if the leaders of Palestine and Israel have the will to meet in China.”
China has traditionally had a low profile in Middle East diplomacy, but is keen to assert its role as a key player in international politics.
It has tried on and off over the years to mediate in the Israeli-Palestinian issue but with little apparent success.
The visits by Netanyahu and Abbas come nearly a month after US Secretary of State John Kerry and Abbas discussed reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
China believes that “strengthening its relationship with Jerusalem would be a sign that it gradually is coming to possess a foothold in the region, while somewhat offsetting, and perhaps even undermining, American political influence there,” the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS), a top Israeli think-tank, said in a paper on Thursday.
Beijing has maintained close relations with the Palestinians for decades.
In recent years, it has also cultivated good ties with Israel, especially in the field of defence.
In an interview with China’s state news agency Xinhua on Friday, Abbas said he will let the Chinese leaders know the barriers currently rooted in the Palestinians’ talks with Israel, as he “expects Beijing’s contribution to the stalled peace process.”