Israel and China celebrated their economic “marriage” and spoke of Beijing’s diplomatic role in the Middle East and with regard to Iran on Monday, the second day of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Israel’s top Asian trade partner.
“There is a great deal of convulsion in the world, including in our part of the world,” Netanyahu said when he met with Chinese counterpart Premier Li Keqiang.
Netanyahu added that he hopes the two countries could “cooperate together for the advancement of security, peace and stability, and prosperity.”
The two met in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People next to a display of their countries’ flags as a band played their national anthems.
“The Chinese people and the Jewish people are both great peoples of the world,” Li said.
China will continue to adhere to its objective and fair stance and play a constructive role for peace, stability and development in the Middle East while working together with the international community for this goal, Li told Netanyahu.
China, one of the world’s superpowers, is looking to increase its role in the Middle East, particularly with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
At the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, China said, “The Palestinian issue is the key and the source of the Middle East issue.”
But while Netanyahu discussed regional issues with the Chinese, the trip’s primary focus was economic. China is one of Israel’s top trading partners, along with the United States and the European Union.
Israel has free-trade agreements with the US and the EU, but talks for such an agreement with China were begun only last year and continued during Netanyahu’s visit. He had previously traveled to China as premier in 2013 and in 1993.
With this trip, Israel and China also celebrated 25 years of ties. At a meeting of Israeli and Chinese businesspeople in Beijing, Netanyahu discussed his vision of the “marriage” between Israel and China.
“There is an extraordinary capacity for China to assume its rightful place, as it’s doing, on the world stage. We are your perfect junior partner for that effort,” he said, adding, “We are eager to work with you.”
In the coming days, Netanyahu said, Israel and China will sign a “series of agreements on how we can pursue this cooperation, how we can help China with its plans and how China of course can enable us to participate in its great projects. But I believe this is a marriage made in heaven.”
The two governments agreed to “hasten the establishment of a free-trade zone.” Netanyahu proposed the establishment of a fast track for Israeli and Chinese investors and also raised the possibility of a direct air link between Shanghai and Tel Aviv.
Deng Li, director-general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s West Asian and North African Affairs Department, told a briefing that both countries have agreed to step up free-trade talks.
“Personally, I am very confident and optimistic about the future of this free-trade agreement,” Deng said.
However, the two governments are far apart when it comes to diplomatic issues. China, which is one of five permanent members on the UN Security Council, supported Resolution 2334 in December condemning Israeli settlement activity. It has recognized Palestine as a state and often votes against Israel at the United Nations.
China was also one of the six world powers that signed the Iran deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, to curb Tehran’s nuclear capability.
According to the Russian news website Sputnik, the issue of Iran was also on the agenda in Beijing.
“China’s position on the matter is very clear. We think that it is necessary to observe the comprehensive nuclear agreement reached with Iran, and that it is necessary to uphold the international nonproliferation regime,” Deng said.