BEIJING (AP) — China is hosting both the Palestinian and Israeli leaders this week in a sign of its desire for a larger role in the Middle East.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was welcomed by his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing on Monday, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began a visit to the eastern financial hub of Shanghai. Netanyahu is due in Beijing on Wednesday following Abbas' departure a day earlier.
China's Foreign Ministry said last week it would be willing to help set up a meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu if the two men wanted. Talks between the Israeli and Palestinian sides have been deadlocked for four years and there was no indication a meeting would take place.
China has traditionally maintained a low profile in Middle East diplomacy, but in recent years has tried to play a more active role in the region as part of its quest for markets, resources and diplomatic influence. Beijing has sought stable relations with both sides in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but has been criticized along with Russia by many for strongly opposing international intervention in Syria.
China's hosting of the two leaders is "part of its efforts in helping facilitate the Middle East peace process," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a regularly scheduled briefing.
"China thinks it is of great significance to help facilitate the Middle East peace process, and would like to make positive and constructive efforts in helping resume peace talks between Palestine and Israel," Hua said.
Meeting with Xi at the Great Hall of the People, the seat of China's legislature, Abbas reviewed the history of their relations stretching back to the 1960s and said the two sides shared the "same views on many world problems."
"I appreciate China's high position in the world nowadays," Abbas said in opening remarks at the meeting, which was followed by the signing of agreements on technical cooperation and cultural exchanges.
China recognized the Palestinian state in 1988, four years before establishing diplomatic ties with Israel.
In an interview with China's official Xinhua News Agency last week, Abbas said he wanted to involve China more in the Middle East peace process, and said the dual visits would offer a "good opportunity for the Chinese to listen to both of us."
Netanyahu's visit is the first by an Israeli leader since Ehud Olmert visited in 2007, and is expected to include the signing of numerous trade deals. China is a major customer for Israeli know-how, from high-technology to agriculture, engineering and military hardware and services, including the training of Chinese security forces and purchase of unmanned aerial vehicles.
"This is the goal — to expand bilateral economic cooperation and significantly increase Israeli exports to China," Netanyahu said during a visit to a high-tech industrial park following his arrival in Shanghai.
Hua, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said China wanted to see a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict that allowed for both Israeli security and a Palestinian state based on the handover of occupied territory to the Palestinian Authority.