Chinese Special Envoy on the Middle East Issue Wang Shijie Talks about His Visit to the Middle East
On the morning of April 18, 2005, Chinese Special Envoy on the Middle East Issue Wang Shijie, at the invitation of the International Press Center (IPC), gives a briefing for domestic and international journalists as well as information officers of foreign embassies in China on his recent visit to Israel, Palestine and Egypt. Deputy Director-General Qin Gang of the Information Department hosted the briefing.
The following is the full text of the briefing:
Good morning. First of all I would like to brief you about my recent visit to the Middle East.
I visited Israel, Palestine and Egypt. In Israel, I met with vice Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Shalom, related officials of the Israeli foreign ministry and leader of the Israeli Social Democratic Party and former Justice Minister Beilin who is one of the advocates of the Geneva Initiative. In Palestine, I met with Prime Minister Qorei, Foreign Minister Kidwa, Minister of Negotiation Affairs Erekat and central member of Fatah and former Minister of Social Affairs Um Jihad. In Egypt, I met with Foreign Minister Gheit, Presidential Advisor on Political Affairs Bazz and other foreign ministry officials and Deputy Secretary General of the League of Arab States (LAS) Kamal as well. During my stop at Russia, I exchanged opinions with vice foreign minister and the special envoy on the Middle East issue of Russia. I paid the visit under the circumstances that various parties within Palestine held the meeting in Cairo and reached the agreement on realizing ceasefire with Israel and maintaining the calm period, that Palestine, Israel, Egypt and Jordan held the summit in Sharm El Sheikh, at which Palestine and Israel reached understandings and that the Arab Summit was held in Algeria declaring the re-launch of the Arab Peace Initiative.
I have four impressions about this visit:
First, both Israel and Palestine emphasized to implement the understandings reached during the Sharm El Sheikh summit and have indeed taken some practical measures. It should be said that despite of some violent events tranquility has been maintained during this period. The Palestinian side has taken the following steps: 1. The ruling party "Fateh" and other opposition groups of the Palestine Liberation Organization has done lots of work to maintain the ceasefire and leave no excuse to Israel, which helps maintain and strengthen the unity within Palestine. 2. The Palestine National Authority reformed its security troops. Recently the violent attacks of the Palestinian side against Israel reduced considerably, which is closely linked with the actions taken by Palestine.
The Israeli side has also done some work for the implementation of the Sharm El Sheikh agreement, such as the release of some Palestinian prisoners, return of the controlling rights of two to three cities in West Bank to Palestine and demolished some road barriers. It is also making preparations for the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. The Israeli foreign minister also said that a Palestine fund would be set up to help Palestine to develop the economy in the Gaza Strip and solve the employment problem of the Palestinian people.
Second, the period of tranquility between Palestine and Israel is relatively fragile. During this period a number of violent actions took place continuously. Both Palestine and Israel face great pressure from the opposition forces. We can see that "Hamas" on the Palestinian side strongly opposed to maintaining long-term ceasefire before Israel withdrew from the areas controlled by Palestine. Israel also faces huge internal pressure. It is clear that the Israeli right wing recently took some actions. In particular it intends to take action on the Temple Mount soon.
Third, the major problems at present are: 1. Palestine holds that the withdrawal of Israel is incomplete and Israel still controls some regions where it has withdrawn or will withdraw. For example, after Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, who should control the territorial sea, airport and territorial air space? After withdrawing from two cities in West Bank Israel still controls some major passages. 2. Palestine's criticism of expanding the settlements by Israel in West Bank is the key differences between the two sides. The new settlements built by Israel in the West Bank link the region with Jerusalem and divide the area controlled by Palestine in the region in several parts. 3. The Palestinian side urgently requires Israel to release a bigger number or even all the Palestinian prisoners, toward which Israel has taken few steps. 4. The basic problem is that Palestine suspects that Israel intends to impose a Palestine state with an interim boundary on the Palestinian side or put it in other words to establish the Palestinian state on a land which is divided into several separate parts and controlled by Israel. The Palestinian side opposes to and will never accept the situation that a Palestinian state with an interim boundary means the final settlement of the problem. On the "roadmap", the Palestinian side requires the complete implementation of the "roadmap" plan raised by the four parties instead of implementing only one phase of the plan. Related parties hold that Israel has yet not considered implementing the "roadmap" plan comprehensively, which is a basic contradiction.
Fourth, despite of the serious situation and fragile calm period, Palestine, Israel, related Arab countries and the international communities are still making efforts. 1. The contact between Palestine and Israel at all levels continues. 2. The Arab countries are making constant efforts. Recently, Egypt and Jordan invited President of the Palestine Liberation Organization Abbas to visit their countries respectively to discuss how to continue to make efforts to realize peace talks between Palestine and Israel. Egypt has played a unique role to that end. Egypt has directly involved in the efforts to promote the unity within different parties in Palestine and held several meetings in Cairo to make it possible that different parties of Palestine reach agreement on maintaining the calm period. Furthermore, on the issue of the Sharm El Sheikh understandings between Palestine and Israel, President Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah attended the "four-party" summit. In addition, at the recent Algeria summit the Arab countries re-launched the Arab Peace Initiative earlier reached at the Beirut summit. The General Secretary of the Arab League told me that the Arab countries are fairly flexible on this question. They stress that once Israel follows related UN resolutions and withdraw from the Palestinian territory it occupied in 1967 the Arab countries could normalize their relations with Israel. Although there are many problems between Palestine and Israel, the Arab summit has taken a flexible attitude. The international community, including the US, is also making efforts. Sharon has visited the US and Abbas will visit the US soon. During Sharon's visit, the US made it clear that it dose not agree on Israel's expansion of settlements in West Bank, which is welcomed by the Palestinian side.
Now I would like to introduce the position of China:
At the end of last year during his visit to Palestine and Israel State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan raised four proposals on the current Middle East issue. My visit this time also focuses on those four proposals.
First, China believes that mutual trust should be built gradually and peace talks resumed as soon as possible. It should be emphasized that it is very important to build mutual trust. The differences should be solved through negotiations on the basis of fully respecting related UN resolutions, the "land for peace" principle and the common consensus and agreement reached between the two sides in a bid to realize the peaceful coexistence between the Arab and Jewish nations.
Second, China suggests accelerating the implementation of the "roadmap" plan and establishing an independent Palestinian State as soon as possible. On this point we always uphold that the Palestinian State to be founded should be an independent country able to respect the legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people. Meanwhile the security of Israel should be fully protected.
Third, China advocates that the international community actively promote the Middle East peace process and the Middle East peace conference attended by the permanent members of the UN Security Council and related parties should be held at the earliest date possible.
Fourth, China upholds that efforts should be made to realize the all-round and sustainable peace in the Middle East. We think that to realize comprehensive peace in the Middle East it is a must to solve the problems between Syria and Israel and those between Lebanon and Israel at the same time so as to build peace between them.
During my visit, when reiterating the four proposals I especially stressed the principle of "land for peace". We believe that the principle is a basic prerequisite for realizing peace between Palestine and Israel and the overall peace in the Middle East. To exchange for peace Israel should withdraw from the occupied Arab land. Recently there are different voices on this problem. Some suggest "security for peace" and other raise "the Middle East democracy for peace", which, in our views, are not major ways to solve the current problem. We believe that the key remains to be land for peace.
During my visit I also conveyed the concerns of the Palestinian side to Israel. The Palestinian side hopes that Israel stops building separation walls and expanding the settlements in West Bank and that Israel releases the Palestinian prisoners. We also expressed the concerns of China to Israel. We hope that Israel refrains from adopting any acts igniting the national emotion of Palestine and seizes the existing hard-won opportunities to continue with the peace talks with Palestine so as to properly solve their differences. I personally said to the Israel side that it complies with both the interest of peace and security in the Middle East and the long-term interest of Israel. Of course, I also reaffirmed the hope to the Palestinian side that it could strengthen unity to continue the current calm period so as to make it possible to hold negotiations between Palestine and Israel. We do not agree that Palestine adopts any violent acts against the innocent Israeli civilians.
When contacting with related responsible officials on the Russian side, I feel clearly that China and Russia hold many similar even identical positions on the Middle East issue. Both of us have also made it clear that in the future we would continue to contact and cooperate with each other in facilitating the Middle East peace talks.
The above is a brief introduction of my visit, and now I would like to take questions from you.
Q: Just now you mentioned that now China and Russia hold many similar positions on the Middle East issue, but does any difference exist? If yes, what are the specific differences?
A: I can tell our journalist friends that during my contact with my Russian counterparts this time and according to my past experiences I have yet not found any different position between China and Russia on the Middle East issue. The only difference lies in the roles played by China and Russia. For example, Russia is a member of the "four-party" mechanism. However, it does not hinder our cooperation and contacts between us. Both China and Russia are permanent members of the UN Security Council and we can conduct some collaboration within the framework of the UN.
Q: Do you think the efforts of the US to solve the Middle East issue are sincere? What efforts made by Sharon are true? In your opinion whether does the promotion of democracy in the Middle East threat peace in the region?
I decline to make comment on whether the attitude of whatever party is sincere or not because it should be proved by facts. However, I believe that the role of the US is very important since the US and Israel have special relations. Meanwhile, the US is also a major player of the "four-party" talks. We hope that the US increases its efforts on the Middle East issue to help realize peace in the region as soon as possible. Recently, during the visit of Sharon to the US, President Bush clarified his position that he does not agree on the continuous expansion of settlements by Israel in West Bank, which is welcomed by the Palestinian side. At the same time Palestine expressed hope that the US imposes greater pressure on Israel and stop Israel from continuing building settlements in the region.
To realize democracy in the Middle East is first of all the affair of the Middle East people themselves and the aspiration of all countries and people concerned in the region. The top priority at present is to realize peace in the region in the principle of "land for peace" according to related UN resolutions and common consensuses already reached.
Q: During your visit did you on behalf of the Chinese government invite the Palestinian and Israeli leaders to visit China? If yes, when will they visit China?
A: I did not talk about this question during my visit. China has sent invitations to the Palestinian and Israeli leaders. When they will visit China depends on the agenda of both sides.
Q: You recent visit to the Middle East is your fifth visit to the region. What do you think about your role, to report the Middle East situation to the Chinese government or to raise some initiatives to them? What role have you played?
A: As China's special envoy on the Middle East issue, I have the duty to report and raise suggestions to the Chinese government after visiting the region and contacting the leaders and officials of countries concerned, which is part of my job. During my visit I also clearly elaborated the position of the Chinese government on the settlement of the Middle East issue. Meanwhile I tried my best to promote peace and convey the requirements and concerns of one party to other related parties and raised the suggestions of the Chinese government on how to solve those problems. The position of the Chinese government on the Middle East issue is widely appreciated by the three countries I visited. They all welcome a unique role played by China because China maintains good relations with the Middle East countries concerned. Furthermore, China is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and has the responsibility for world peace including peace in the Middle East region.
Q: Do you agree that China has not raised any new initiative on the Middle East issue and China's role is just to listen to and look at the situation the region?
A: It is necessary for China to listen and look first before raising any suggestion. Only with understanding of the situation can you raise more realistic suggestions. I do not agree that China does not have any new initiative. There are many initiatives to solve the Middle East issue, but many principles are the same. The UN has many related resolutions and the international community including the Oslo Agreement and Madrid peace conference has also raised many similar agreements and proposals. What is important now is not to raise new initiative but to implement the already existing understanding and related resolutions of the Security Council.
Q: What role do you think the EU plays on the Middle East issue? Have you contacted the related UE officials?
A: During my past several visits, I feel that the EU plays a relatively big role in the Middle East issue because EU has close relations with the Middle East both in history and tradition. The European countries have made great efforts to solve the Middle East issue and their role has been recognized by the Arab world, especially the Palestinian side. When talking with me, the Palestinian side expressed gratitude to EU for its great assistance to Palestine in order to promote the peace process. They hope that EU will continue to play its due role. EU has the capacity and potential to play a big role. It is one of the "four parties". It may encounter some contradictions when playing its unique role and playing its part within the "four parties", but anyway it plays a very important role, which has been welcomed by related parties. As to my contact with EU countries, I held exchanges with the former EU special envoy on the Middle East issue and now the foreign minister of Spain and also contacted the officials of France and other countries frequently.
Q: What is China's position on the Lebanon-Syria situation?
A: On this issue, Syria and Lebanon are conducting negotiations and coordination. The Syrian forces are gradually withdrawing from Lebanon, and it is critical to maintain stability in Lebanon. However, to do that, it is a basic prerequisite to realize peace between Syria and Israel and between Lebanon and Israel and to launch peace talks between them.