SHANGHAI – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu carried on with his visit in China on Monday as though nothing extraordinary had happened recently in the North, neither mentioning Syria during public remarks nor radiating any sense of unease about the situation during his public appearances.
Netanyahu’s entourage also continued a policy of remaining completely closed-mouthed on the issue, refusing to discuss it at all.
Prime Minister’s Office officials also dismissed speculation that Yaakov Amidror, the National Security Council’s head and Netanyahu’s top foreign policy adviser, did not accompany Netanyahu to China because he was needed in Jerusalem to deal with any possible Syrian, Iranian or Hezbollah retaliation to the alleged Israeli attack on arms depots near Damascus.
Amidror, the officials said, will join Netanyahu in Beijing on Wednesday, and stayed in Jerusalem to take part in the second round of talks with Turkish officials over compensation payments to the families of those killed on the Mavi Marmara flotilla.
Netanyahu’s only reference to Syria came while on the plane en route to Shanghai, when he was asked whether he had considered postponing his trip to China because of the recent developments.
“No,” he replied succinctly, cutting off any further questions about the matter.
Nevertheless, China criticized the reported attack.
“We oppose the use of military force and believe any country’s sovereignty should be respected,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a press conference Monday.
“China also calls on all relevant parties to begin from the basis of protecting regional peace and stability, maintain restraint and avoid taking any actions that would escalate tensions and jointly safeguard regional peace and stability,” Hua said.
The issue is expected to be on the agenda when Netanyahu meets Wednesday in Beijing with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang, and on Thursday when he meets Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The Kremlin, meanwhile, announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone Monday with Netanyahu about the “regional situation” and the situation in Syria. The Prime Minister’s Office did not issue a statement about that conversation.
Russia and China are Syrian President Bashar Assad’s primary backers in the international community.
Meanwhile, Xi on Monday met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, currently on a three-day visit to the capital.
Abbas is scheduled to leave Beijing on Tuesday night, before Netanyahu arrives in the city.
Although the Chinese said they would be willing to host a meeting between Netanyahu and Abbas, Israeli officials said such a meeting will not take place.
China’s invitation to Abbas to visit the country at exactly the same time as Netanyahu is widely seen as Beijing’s attempt to retain a perception of “balance” in the Arab world, a perception enhanced if an invitation to Netanyahu is coupled with a similar invitation to Abbas.
In addition, according to some China-watchers, Beijing is increasingly interested in involvement in the diplomatic process, partly to deflect attention from calls for domestic reform, and partly as a way to increase its stature on the world’s stage and gain some leverage in its relationship with the US.
But on Monday, rather than dealing with questions regarding the Syrians or the Palestinians, Netanyahu immersed himself in trying to push forward Israeli-Sino economic cooperation.
At a reception Monday evening in Shanghai with Chinese and Israeli businesspeople, Netanyahu said the “spectacular” city of Shanghai represented “the future of China and the entire world, and I believe that Israel can be part of this future.”
According to Netanyahu, “The future belongs to countries that are capable of manufacturing intellectual property” and to those that “lead in innovation and technology.”
“Israel is not as big as China,” he said. “We have 8 million residents, approximately one-third the population of Shanghai. But we manufacture more intellectual property than any other country in the world in relation to its size. If we create a partnership between Israel’s inventive capability and China’s manufacturing capability, we will have a winning combination.”
Earlier in the evening he met with Israeli businesspeople representing companies operating in Shanghai, who told him of the importance of Israeli government backing when breaking into the centralized and government-controlled Chinese market. Netanyahu said he intended to give them that backing.
“We must make the national effort to enter Chinese markets and to create partnerships. In addition to your private initiatives, we need to create a government track with the Chinese,” the prime minister said.
Before the reception, Netanyahu kicked off his visit to China with a stop at the Caohejing Hi-Tech Park, where he saw an exhibition on companies located there.
Standing before a wall with the logos from major international companies with a presence in the park – Phillips, Emerson, Nokia, Cisco and dozens more – Netanyahu said his goal was that “in the future, Israeli companies will also be on the wall.”
At the evening reception, Netanyahu spoke not only about Shanghai’s future but also about its past.
“We do not forget the past,” he said. “Jews who fled the Nazi horrors during the Holocaust found refuge in Shanghai, and we will never forget it.”
On Tuesday, Netanyahu will go to the city’s historic Jewish quarter, visit a museum dedicated to the city’s Jewish refugees and the Ohel Moshe synagogue, and take part in the dedication of a historic coffee shop in the quarter.
In the afternoon he will meet Shanghai Mayor Yang Xiong and interview with the Chinese press.