China Urges Peace Talks to Settle 'Palestinian Question'
China called for a resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority at a conference in Beijing Tuesday, as the rising global power seeks greater diplomatic influence in the Middle East.
"We need to redouble efforts to promote peace talks," assistant foreign minister Ma Zhaoxu said at the United Nations International Meeting in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, an event attended by diplomats, UN delegates, academics, and figures from the Palestinian and Israeli parliaments.
"The international community should be fully aware of the importance and urgency of settling the Palestinian question and make every effort to promote the resumption of peace talks," he said, according to the AFP news agency.
Beijing has traditionally remained distant from Middle East affairs, although it has begun to take a more active diplomatic role in recent years, wielding its UN veto to foil a number of Western-backed proposals on Syria.
Daniel Ben-Simon of the Labor Party said the growing influence of Beijing within Israeli-Palestinian affairs could bring a new dimension to relations in the region.
"They (Israelis) have been listening until now to the Americans. There has been one boss in the peace process. No other country has had a word – a strong word -- like the Americans," he told AFP on the sidelines of the conference.
"If the Chinese get involved, that will be very, very interesting because Israel and China are working together very closely economically."
Ben-Simon also said China could build on its economic interests to develop "political influence" in the region.
He said however that he was unclear if Beijing's key aim was to take Washington's place at the summit table.
"That is the question. Is there competition between these two superpowers?" he said.
China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has voiced support for the PA push for full state membership in the United Nations.
PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu made state visits to Beijing during the same week last month.
Bassam al-Salhi, a representative of Abbas, said on a visit to Beijing last November that China could play a "special role" in the Middle East, AFP reported.
"The importance of this conference is that all the international community support Palestinian inalienable rights," al-Salhi, the head of the PA delegation to the conference, told AFP Tuesday. "China is (a) very important country to take its role in the peace process.”
China generally opposes what it calls intervention in the internal affairs of other nations.
In 2012, Israel imported $5.32 billion (3.8 billion euros) in goods from China and exported $2.74 billion, according to official figures.
China is also a major importer of Middle East oil, a key resource to power its expanding economy.