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Israel and China Reach Pacts on Flights, Economic Ventures

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s historic trip to China, intended to strengthen diplomatic ties and to enhance China’s role in the Middle East, has already yielded several joint economic agreements.

Rabin’s five-day visit, the first ever by an Israeli prime minister, included a meeting on Monday with Chinese Premier Li Peng. The trip comes a month after a visit to China by Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Rabin flew to Beijing on Saturday night aboard a special Israeli air force jet. He was scheduled to hold talks with government leaders and to discuss the latest advances in the regional peace talks at Shanghai University before returning home on Friday.

Rabin was expected to press China not to sell arms to Iran. But a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said the question did not arise during Rabin’s private meeting with Li, which focused on the Israel-PLO peace accord.

The spokesman, according to Israel Radio, defended what he called China’s “principled arms exports,” which he said were made solely for the self-defense of the countries involved. He further defended China’s arms exports, saying they “contributed to regional stability.”

During the meeting, Rabin reportedly briefed Li on the danger of Islamic fundamentalist groups that have vowed to derail the peace process.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Li viewed the Israeli-PLO accord signed last month in Washington as a breakthrough. Li had told Rabin that his country would do what it could to support the Middle East peace process, but that its role was limited.

JOINT POTASH PLANT PLANNED

Rabin’s visit included an official welcoming ceremony in Tiananmen Square that featured a 19-gun salute and the playing of the two countries’ national anthems. Rabin’s trip was also scheduled to include a visit to the Great Wall.

On Monday, Israel and China signed a series of bilateral commercial agreements intended to strengthen ties between the two countries.

The first agreement signed by Rabin after his meeting with the Chinese premier was an aviation pact that made formal the present arrangement under which El Al, for the past 14 months, has been flying weekly charter flights between Beijing and Ben-Gurion Airport in Israel.

Air China is soon to start its own charter flights between the two countries.

Under the agreement, El Al will be able to fly to other cities in China in addition to Beijing. El Al will also be able to use Beijing as a stop-over point for flights to other destinations in the Far East, such as Tokyo and Bangkok, Thailand.

Under the terms of a second agreement, the Israeli government-owned Dead Sea Industries will establish a potash plant in China.

The $470 million plant will be built in the Shansi province on the Chinese border with Tibet. The Chinese government will hold a two-thirds interest in the jointly sponsored project.

About 50 employees of Dead Sea Industries will be stationed in China during the planning and construction phases of the plant.

(Contributing to this report was JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv)

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