By Yew Lun Tian, Liz Lee and Antoni Slodkowski
BEIJING (Reuters) -U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday called on Chinese President Xi Jinping to support Israel after deadly attacks by Hamas, adding he was “disappointed” that Beijing showed “no sympathy” for the country over the weekend.
State media accounts of the meeting skirted Israel, instead focusing on the need for collaboration and mutual respect, and offering dovish remarks by Xi that could help lay the groundwork for a potential summit with U.S. President Joe Biden next month.
Fighters from Islamist group Hamas killed 700 Israelis and abducted dozens more as they attacked Israeli towns on Saturday, the deadliest incursion into Israeli territory since Egypt and Syria’s attacks in the Yom Kippur war 50 years ago. Israel responded by pounding Gaza, killing hundreds of Palestinians.
In response, China’s foreign ministry urged in a weekend statement the “relevant parties” to remain calm and to end hostilities to protect civilians, adding that “the fundamental way out of the conflict lies in implementing the two-state solution and establishing an independent State of Palestine”.
Schumer is leading a rare bipartisan congressional delegation on a trip to Asia, which also includes stops in South Korea and Japan. It aims to advance U.S. economic and national security interests.
“The ongoing events in Israel over the last few days are nothing short of horrific. I urge you and the Chinese people to stand with the Israeli people and condemn the cowardly and vicious attacks,” Schumer told Xi during their meeting in Beijing.
“I say this with respect, but I was disappointed by the foreign minister’s statement that showed no sympathy or support for the Israeli people during these troubled times,” he added.
Asked about Schumer’s remarks, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a regular briefing on Monday that China was “highly concerned” about the escalation. “We are very saddened by the civilian casualties caused by the conflict, and also oppose and condemn such acts against civilians,” she said.
Mao said China was calling for a ceasefire to avoid more deaths.
After passing a sweeping bill last year to boost competition with China in semiconductors and other technology, Schumer and Democratic committee leaders said in May they would write legislation to limit the flow of technology to China, deter it from initiating a conflict with Taiwan and tighten rules to block U.S. capital from going to Chinese companies.
On Monday, Schumer reiterated that the main objective of the trip was to seek economic reciprocity and the creation of a level playing field for U.S. businesses in China, and assured that Washington was not seeking conflict with Beijing.
Xi told Schumer that “competition and confrontation are not in line with the trend of the times, let alone solving their own problems and the challenges facing the world,” according to state broadcaster CCTV’s account of the meeting.
He added that, “China has always believed that the common interests of China and the U.S. far outweigh their differences,” and that the success of both countries is an opportunity rather than a challenge for each other.
Communication between U.S. and Chinese officials has increased in recent months, bringing some improvement in ties strained for years over issues such as Taiwan, the origins of COVID-19 and accusations of Chinese spying.
San Francisco will host an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in November and public attention has been on whether Xi would attend after recently skipping the G20 summit in New Delhi that Biden attended.
(Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski, Yew Lun Tian and Liz Lee; Writing by Bernard Orr; Editing by Kim Coghill and Gerry Doyle, Miral Fahmy and Sharon Singleton)