China Hints It is Contemplating Establishing Relations with Israel

China is gradually preparing to establish diplomatic relations with Israel, the Chinese foreign minister is said to have told a visiting delegation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center last week in Beijing.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, who is dean of the Los Angeles-based center, said in a telephone conversation from the Chinese capital that Foreign Minister Qian Qichen said Chinese and Israeli diplomats have been in regular contact and have “embarked on a gradual and progressive approach with the ultimate goal of preparing for normal relations.”

The Wiesenthal Center group, which was on an eight-day visit to China, also met on Nov. 28 day with Li Shuzheng, deputy head of the Communist Party International Liaison Department. Li said it was her personal opinion that extending full diplomatic recognition to Israel would be linked to progress in the Middle East peace talks.

Hier said that when pressed, the Chinese foreign minister told him that “with concerted efforts by both sides, this process will be advanced soon.” But Qian declined to discuss a more specific timetable, Hier said.

Qian opened the 55-minute meeting with the 15-member delegation by drawing parallels between the Chinese and Jewish people, citing their long experience with being persecuted, the high value they put on close family ties, and the hospitality extended in Shanghai to Jewish refugees from Europe during World War II.

Asked whether, on this basis, China might back the repeal of the 1975 U.N. General Assembly resolution branding Zionism a from of racism, Qian put the question aside, saying only that the Chinese had never engaged in racist or anti-Semitic attacks.

In an exchange on human rights, the Holocaust and the Middle East, Qian invoked the proverb, “What is hateful to you, do not do unto other,” which his listeners took as an allusion to Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians.

Qian attributed the quote to the Chinese philosopher Confucius, although the Jewish participants thought it bore a remarkable resemblance to one of the most famous sayings of the Jewish sage Hillel.

HOLOCAUST EXHIBIT IN SHANGHAI

On Tuesday, the Wiesenthal group will participate in the opening of the center’s Holocaust exhibit, “The Courage to Remember,” in Shanghai. The display, consisting of 40 bilingual panels, is the first on a Jewish theme invited by the People’s Republic of China. Hier said.

A companion exhibit by the Chinese Institute for Peace and Development Studies will focus on the lives of some 25,000 Jews who found refuge in China during the Second World War.

Hier’s report is the latest in what seem to be a series of auspicious omens from Beijing.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Arens reportedly made a secret visit to Beijing in early November, according to reports in Israeli newspapers, one of which published a photograph of him ostensibly in the Chinese capital.

More recently, Israel’s first Israeli official trade delegation visited China to set up a bevy of economic links between the two countries. The group’s leader, Dan Gillerman, chairman of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, predicted diplomatic relations between the two countries would be established in a few months.

Although Israel recognized the People’s Republic of China after the 1949 Communist revolution there, the two countires never established formal diplomatic ties.

China’s politics and trade placed it firmly in the Arab orbit, leaving it the only one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council not to have diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

China has recognized the Beijing representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization as ambassador of “Palestine.” Through the years, China “consistently rebuffed Israel’s repeated offers to establish diplomatic relations,” according to a 1987 report by the London-based Institute of Jewish Affairs.

Still, by 1987, several low-level meetings had taken place between Israel and Chinese representatives at the United Nations, and China’s first scholar went to Jerusalem to engage in research at the Hebrew University.

Then, at the October 1987 opening of the U.N. General Assembly, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wu Xueqian. It was Wu, now China’s vice president, who met with the Israeli trade delegation.

Just as U.S.-Chinese ties were begun on the ping-pong court, Sino-Israeli links have been forged in the academic and travel arenas.

In early 1990, the Israeli Academy of Sciences and Humanities opened an office in Beijing, chiefly sanctioned to foster scholarly exchanges, but whose staff is empowered to administer visas.

Reciprocally, China opened a tourist office in Tel Aviv.

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