China is hosting both the Palestinian and Israeli leaders this week in a sign of its desire for a larger role in the Middle East.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was welcomed by his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing on Monday, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began a visit to the eastern financial hub of Shanghai. Mr. Netanyahu is due in Beijing on Wednesday following Mr. Abbas’ departure a day earlier.

China’s Foreign Ministry said last week it would be willing to help set up a meeting between Mr Abbas and Mr Netanyahu if the two men wanted. Talks between the Israeli and Palestinian sides have been deadlocked for four years and there was no indication a meeting would take place.

China has traditionally maintained a low profile in Middle East diplomacy, but in recent years has tried to play a more active role in the region as part of its quest for markets, resources and diplomatic influence. Beijing has sought stable relations with both sides in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but has been criticised along with Russia by many for strongly opposing international intervention in Syria.

China’s hosting of the two leaders is “part of its efforts in helping facilitate the Middle East peace process,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a regularly scheduled briefing.

“China thinks it is of great significance to help facilitate the Middle East peace process, and would like to make positive and constructive efforts in helping resume peace talks between Palestine and Israel,” Hua said.

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