Following separate meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas this week, Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday called for both parties to make “joint efforts” towards peace, promising the “necessary assistance” to restart peace talks as soon as possible.
On Monday, Xi first met with Abbas, floating China's "four-point proposal" for peace – which includes a settlement based on 1967 borders, a negotiating framework of “land for peace”, and an end to settlement building and violence against civilians.
Xi then met Netanyahu on Thursday, where they discussed bilateral trade agreements as well as Iran’s nuclear threat and other political developments in the Middle East.
Netanyahu was the first top Israeli leader to visit China since former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert did so in 2007, while China historically has had a pro-Palestine stance.
According to The Economist, “that stance has mellowed as China has become more pragmatic and less devoted to the brotherly solidarity it once showed for struggles in the poor world against colonialism and imperialism… [but] we can safely assume that the Chinese stance…in future will be as pro-Palestinian as today, if not more so.”
However, with the value of bilateral trade between Israel and China having rapidly grown to nearly $10 billion, China could rival the U.S. in Middle Eastern diplomacy says Yin Gang of China’s Academy of Social Sciences.
Yin predicted that China’s newly installed government will barely change the country’s long-standing policy of calling for peace, criticising the use of force and urging dialogue.
"I hope the two sides can make joint efforts to take practical measures to gradually build up mutual trust, to restart peace talks as soon as possible and achieve substantive progress," Xi told Netanyahu, according to a statement carried on the website of China's foreign ministry late on Thursday.
"Only by protecting the legitimate rights and interests of all countries, having respect for each other's concerns can there be true realization of regional peace and stability," Xi said, as cited by Reuters.
Officials in Netanyahu’s entourage told the Jerusalem Post that there were positive elements in China’s “four-point proposal”, including a statement of “the existence of Israel and its legitimate security concerns should be fully respected.”
Netanyahu also told Xi that "Israel is well aware of the pain caused by war, welcomes and desires peace, and is willing to achieve peace through negotiations," according to the Chinese foreign ministry.
Nevertheless, China “is in no position to coerce Israel to do anything it doesn’t want,” said Robert Ross of Boston College. Furthermore, according to The Economist, foreign diplomats say Netanyahu was never likely to show more than polite interest in Chinese involvement in the Palestinian issue. The public focus of his visit rather was on trade deals.