JERUSALEM, Feb. 20 (JTA) — Israel and China have agreed to boost bilateral trade and economic cooperation. Israeli Trade and Industry Minister Natan Sharansky met Wednesday with Chinese Vice Premier Li Lanquing, who visited Israel. Their meeting took place the same day that Chinese officials announced the death of their leader, Deng Xiaoping. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conveyed condolences to China in a Thursday meeting with Li, who cut his trip short because of the leader’s death. Netanyahu expressed hope that the developing ties between the two countries would continue to deepen. Netanyahu called Deng “one of the great leaders of the 20th century, who modernized China, opened up its gates and, I must say, also opened up its gates for our relations.” Observers said the death of the 92-year-old Deng, who had not been seen in public in recent years, would likely have little impact on the Chinese political scene. “We are convinced that the direction China is heading in will be continued and our friendship will continue to prosper as well,” Netanyahu said. During his meeting with Li, Sharansky expressed disappointment with the level of trade between the two countries, according to the Israeli Trade Ministry. Israel and China formally established diplomatic and trade relations four years ago. Israeli exports to China totaled $81 million last year. Chinese exports to Israel in 1996 were $160 million. The two sides agreed to set up joint committees to explore possible cooperation in agriculture, electronics, medical equipment and telecommunications.
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