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China rebukes Israel ahead of Netanyahu visit

By Ivan Watson and Feng Ke, CNN
May 7, 2013 -- Updated 1117 GMT (1917 HKT)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping on May 6, 2013.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping on May 6, 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu is in China for a five-day visit
  • China: "The sovereignty of any country should be respected"
  • Netanyahu's visit coincides with arrival of his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas
  • Two Mideast leaders not likely to meet, Israeli spokesman says

Beijing (CNN) -- The Chinese government had stern words for Israel at the start of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's five-day visit to the country.

"We oppose the use of weapons. We believe the sovereignty of any country should be respected," said Hua Chunying, China's foreign ministry spokeswoman on Monday, responding to reports that Israel carried out airstrikes against its neighbor Syria last weekend.

"China calls upon relevant parties to bear in mind peace and stability of the region, to exercise restraint and refrain from any actions that may escalate the tension," she added.

Strangely, Netanyahu's visit to China on Monday coincided with the arrival of the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.

Beijing said it would be willing to host a bilateral meeting between the two Middle Eastern leaders. But an Israeli government official told CNN there were no plans for secret talks in China between Netanyahu and Abbas.

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"Don't hold your breath for a summit in Beijing," the Israeli official told CNN, on condition of anonymity.

The Israeli official said the Chinese had "never been involved in mediating or suggesting new ideas or making plans. They are the big silent giant."

China has not traditionally played a mediation role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But this week the world's second largest economy appeared to be flexing its diplomatic muscles in the Middle East, proposing a four-point peace plan and repeating its call for the establishment of a Palestinian state with a capital in East Jerusalem.

"The issue, already lasting more than half a century, has brought deep suffering to the Palestinian people and remains an important reason of extended turbulence in the Middle East region," said Chinese president Xi Jinping, during a meeting with Abbas on Monday, according to China's state news agency Xinhua.

Israel's prime minister is visiting China's commercial capital Shanghai on Tuesday. He is expected to travel on to Beijing on Wednesday.

China's foreign ministry spokesman suggested Netanyahu may get a tough, unwelcome message from his Chinese hosts.

"On the current Syrian situation and Israel's continuous air raid inside, I have already expounded China's position," Hua said on Tuesday. "And we will explicitly tell the Israeli side China's position."

China has a long history of expressing public support for the Palestinians.

The Chinese government has also used its veto in the United Nations Security Council to protect the Syrian government from facing Western-backed sanctions, throughout two years of bloody violence in Syria.

However, Beijing has also quietly established closer trade ties in recent years with Israel.

CNN's Michael Schwartz in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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