China Shifts Stance on Israel, South Africa

Article excerpt

AFTER years of ranking Israel and South Africa high on its blacklist, China has warmed to the two countries and pushed the pragmatism in its foreign policy to a new extreme.

China's partial opening to the two countries this month is part of its effort to broaden diplomatic contacts after the downfall of fraternal communist regimes, Western diplomats say.

With the crumbling of Soviet influence, China seeks to pose itself as a socialist counterweight to United States primacy in southern Africa, the Middle East, and other regions, they say.

Also, Beijing aims to thwart its rival, the Nationalist government on Taiwan, in its own campaign to bolster diplomatic clout with other countries, they say. Taipei maintains close relations with South Africa.

The formative diplomatic contacts will enable Beijing to quickly establish formal relations when South Africa fully dismantles apartheid and the Middle East nears a settlement to the Palestinian question, the diplomats say.

Normalized relations with Pretoria and Tel Aviv are far from imminent. China's recent contacts with both countries have been understated and tentative; political obstacles remain.

But in recent weeks, China has shown a willingness to put a political veneer on its relationship with Israel and make initial contacts with South Africa.

The encounters betray an increasingly pragmatic foreign policy, diplomats say. China for many years has censured South Africa and Israel, despite its usual reluctance to criticize the internal affairs of another country.

In the past, Beijing's criticism of the two countries has focused on their domestic policies, largely to win points with close friends in Africa and the Middle East, diplomats say. Criticism curtailed

But in order to avoid isolation itself, China has shifted away from its stand against the governments behind apartheid and the denial of Palestinian autonomy, diplomats say.

The 1989 massacre of pro-democracy activists in Beijing "has intensified the pragmatism in China's foreign policy," a Western diplomat says.

Before the massacre Beijing "was able to sit back and let foreign diplomats come to them, but now they must go out and seek friends themselves."

Chinese diplomats met with their Israeli counterparts in Beijing earlier this month and discussed many topics, including the situation in the Middle East, a Foreign Ministry official says.

Also, Foreign Minister Qian Qichen indicated to members of the World Jewish Congress in an Oct. 11 meeting in Beijing that China wants to renounce a 1975 United Nations resolution equating Zionism with racism, the congress says.

"It was made abundantly plain to us that China today regards the wording of that resolution as a gross distortion of the truth and a slanderous slur on the Jewish people," Congress co-chairman Isi Leibler recounted in New York.

Mr. Qian indicated that the gradual rapprochement between Beijing and Tel Aviv could be completed when the Palestinian issue was resolved, the congress says. …