After three years of trying to arrange a visit to China, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will arrive in Beijing in the middle of June. Netanyahu's visit will also mark 20 years of diplomatic relations between Israel and China, and alongside economic issues he is also expected to discuss the issue of Iran's nuclear program with his Chinese counterparts.
In October 2010, following intensive diplomatic efforts, Netanyahu received an official invitation to visit China. The first visit was scheduled to take place during November of that year, but at the last minute the prime minister's office informed the Chinese that the meeting was called off.
Instead of China, Netanyahu chose to fly to the Jewish Federations Conference in the U.S. The Chinese were offended by the cancelation and even hinted that it will be a long time until another invitation is extended.
In recent months, the prime minister's office has tried repeatedly to arrange a diplomatic visit to China. Late January, the Chinese embassy sent Netanyahu an official invitation, and since then both sides have been deliberating over the exact date of the visit.
Netanyahu believes Israel should make more diplomatic efforts to tighten relations with China. At the foreign ministry's ambassadors conference in 2011, he said Israel should increase its exports to the Chinese market.
Netanyahu even wished the Chinese people a happy new year on Youtube, as the Year of the Dragon was ushered in – not neglecting some sentences in Mandarin. A few days later, Netanyahu attended a celebration at the Chinese embassy marking 20 years since the two nations forged relations. At the event, he praised China for decreasing the amount of oil it acquires from Iran.
"We will never forget the goodwill of the Chinese people who provided shelter for persecuted Jews in the darkest hours," Netanyahu said at the event. "I appreciate China's need to ensure a regular supply of sources of energy in order to continue its impressive growth. I believe that it is possible to replace Iranian oil and I hope that the Chinese leadership will join the European countries and quickly act to completely halt purchases of Iranian oil."
A few weeks ago the Israeli government appointed Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai as the next Israeli ambassador to China. Netanyahu supported Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's suggestion that a senior figure be appointed to the post, in order to underscore the importance that Israel attributes to China. Netanyahu even called Vilnai personally and urged him to take the post.
Last week, Lieberman returned from a visit in China – one of the longest and most extensive visits made by a senior Israeli representative. Besides meeting in Beijing, Lieberman also visited economic hotspots such as Shanghai and Chengdu. During his visit, Lieberman announced that Israel intends to open a new consulate in Chengdu – the fourth one in China. Once the consulate opens, China will have the largest number of Israeli diplomatic missions after the U.S.
According to a senior official in the foreign ministry, Lieberman met with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping – expected to succeed current president Hu Jintao – as well as other senior officials. Israel's foreign ministry estimates that the visit will help align China's policy over Iran with that Israel's stance, especially in terms of the oil China purchases from the Islamic Republic.
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