x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

China hosts Middle East peace talks

Palestinian envoy to the United Nations praises China's growing involvement in the Middle East peace process.

BEIJING // The Palestinian envoy to the United Nations praised China's growing involvement in the Middle East peace process, saying it enhances the efforts of other nations and should continue to expand.

Riyad Mansour made the comments yesterday during a UN conference hosted by China promoting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The two-day forum is part of Beijing's quest for greater diplomatic influence in a region of growing importance to its economy.

"We believe that China is a very important political force that can contribute in a constructive and positive way to all other efforts exerted by many other political actors," Mr Mansour said.

The conference is part of a regular series of UN-sponsored discussions involving UN officials, diplomats, academics, and present and former members of the Palestinian and Israeli parliaments.

While it was not expected to produce any concrete outcome, the meeting underscored China's attempt to balance its support for the Palestinian cause and heavy reliance on Saudi oil with its pursuit of Israeli high-tech imports and know-how in areas from paramilitary training to water management.

That search for balance was demonstrated last month when the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, and Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, made state visits to China during the same week.

China launched its greater involvement in the Middle East with the appointment of a special envoy to the region in 2009, and has since then sought to maintain contact with most mainstream political groupings without actually becoming embroiled in talks.

In earlier remarks, China's top delegate to the forum, Ma Zhaoxu, the assistant foreign minister, reiterated that China supported the "just cause of the Palestinian people and Palestinian-Israeli peace process".

He said the immediate priority was to stop construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, end violence against civilians, lift the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip, and "properly handle" the issue of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.