Chinese premier meets Palestinian president to bolster his presence in the Middle East

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese Premier Li Qiang met with visiting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday as part of a Beijing-led campaign to elevate relations and increase its overall presence in the Middle East.

Li, who took office this spring with little foreign policy experience, called Abbas an “old friend of the Chinese people” who has made “significant contributions to promoting Sino-Palestinian relations.”

The meeting came a day after Abbas was greeted with full military honors by Xi Jinping, Chinese President and leader of the ruling Communist Party.

The parties then announced the formation of a “strategic partnership”, paving the way for China to strengthen its influence in the region at a time when Beijing’s main rival for global influence, the United States, is considered to be withdrawing from the region following the conflicts in Iraq. and Afghanistan and complications in relations with regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia.

China, meanwhile, is seeking energy resources and markets for its military and civilian exports while promoting its version of authoritarian rule as part of a joint challenge with Russia to the Western-led democratic world order. .

Beijing has long maintained diplomatic ties with the Palestinian Authority and has appointed a special envoy to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials. But his experience in the region is mostly limited to construction, manufacturing and other economic projects.

China relies on such partnerships to bolster its diplomatic posture and give major Chinese companies a boost when negotiating infrastructure deals under the government’s Belt and Road Initiative, which left many troubled countries heavily indebted to Chinese banks.

China has also sought close ties with Israel to expand its diplomatic presence and gain access to high technology.

Abbas’s visit follows China’s hosting of talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia that resulted in the restoration of diplomatic ties between the two Middle Eastern rivals and a strengthening of China’s position In the region.

The Riyadh-Tehran rapprochement has been seen as a diplomatic victory for China, as Gulf Arab states perceive the United States as gradually withdrawing from the wider region.

China has welcomed a growing list of world leaders since reopening its borders in the spring after a three-year virtual shutdown due to its extreme “zero-COVID” policy.

Among them are French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, whose visits have sparked controversy over China’s continuation of its campaign to cut off foreign support for Taiwan autonomy and block criticism of its human rights record.

Next week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to pay a visit to Beijing that has been postponed due to the presence of an alleged Chinese spy balloon over the United States. Diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing are at their lowest in decades on trade, technology, U.S. support for Taiwan and heightened competition for influence in Asia and elsewhere.

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