To See China's Global Vision, Look to the Middle East ; Beijing Burnishes Status as Superpower by Holding Talks on Palestinian Issue

By Edward Wong; Chris Buckley | International Herald Tribune, May 9, 2013 | Go to article overview

To See China's Global Vision, Look to the Middle East ; Beijing Burnishes Status as Superpower by Holding Talks on Palestinian Issue


Edward Wong; Chris Buckley, International Herald Tribune


Back-to-back summits with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, provide clues to how China's diplomatic role could grow.

CORRECTION APPENDED

As China secures its status as the world's other superpower, foreign leaders and policymakers have speculated about its future role in global diplomacy and peacemaking efforts, including in the incendiary realms of the Middle East.

China is giving outsiders a glimpse of that this week, in its hosting of back-to-back visits from Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who arrived in Beijing on Wednesday after a swing through Shanghai.

The fact that the visits were timed so the two leaders would not meet -- Mr. Abbas left Beijing on Tuesday -- signals that neither Xi Jinping, China's leader, nor the two Middle East leaders are ready to attempt the equivalent of Camp David by the Forbidden City. But Mr. Xi did present a four-point proposal for a peace settlement to Mr. Abbas, which, though it did not contain any breakthrough ideas, hinted that China had given some thought to playing a more energetic, if very limited, role as mediator in one of the most protracted conflicts in the Middle East.

"As China's economy, national strength and international status grow, Arab countries are looking more to China," said Guo Xiangang, a vice president of the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing who follows Chinese relations with Middle Eastern nations.

In their meeting Wednesday afternoon, the Chinese prime minister, Li Keqiang, told Mr. Netanyahu that, "The Palestinian issue is a core issue affecting the peace and stability of the Middle East, and a peaceful solution reached through dialogue and negotiations is the only effective answer," according to China's state-run Xinhua news agency.

"As a friend of both Israel and the Palestinians, China has always maintained an objective and fair stance, and is willing to strive together with all sides to actively advance the Middle East peace process," Mr. Li said.

China has been careful to take a clear and consistent but not a strong stand on the Israel-Palestinian issue. China has growing trade ties with Israel -- the value of their trade relationship is estimated in some official Chinese news reports to be nearly $10 billion a year -- but China supports Palestinian statehood and relies on crude oil imports from Iran and Arab nations to meet its energy needs. About half of China's oil imports come from the Middle East, and that dependency is expected to deepen.

The core of the four-point plan Mr. Xi presented to Mr. Abbas was the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, based on the 1967 boundaries and with East Jerusalem as its capital. The plan was a formal version of China's traditional stand on the conflict.

In the United Nations, where China sits on the Security Council, Mr. Abbas has pushed for greater status for the Palestinians. That has drawn economic reprisals from Israel and has led to shrinking donations from foreign supporters.

On Tuesday, Hua Chunying, the Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman, said at a news conference that Israel has to halt the building of settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, violence against innocent civilians and the blockade against the Gaza Strip. This was essential for clearing the way to peace talks, she said.

But China's measured stand on the conflict was evident by some of Mr. Xi's comments in his meeting with Mr. Abbas. "As well, Israel's right to exist and its reasonable security concerns should be fully respected," said Mr. …

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