Twenty-two Arab nations have agreed to boost energy cooperation and increase trade with China at the end of a two-day meeting in Beijing. Analysts see the meeting as part of Beijing's strategy of pushing for stability in the Middle East in order to secure future oil supplies.
Middle East nations already provide China with about 44 percent of its oil imports and with its economy showing no signs of slowing down, Beijing wants to get more oil from the region. For that to happen, China's leaders say, there first needs to be peace in the Middle East and the key to that is the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Among the Arab League foreign ministers taking part in the two-day meeting here was Mahmoud Zahar of the Palestinian government led by Hamas - a group the United States and others have shunned for its terrorist activities.
China this week called on Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist, but Beijing stopped short of setting that as a precondition for direct aid or dialogue. At a briefing Thursday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said China is willing to keep providing aid to the Palestinians.
"The Chinese government has always paid close attention to Palestine's humanitarian situation," said Liu. "We will continue to provide humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people within our capacity."
Mr. Liu said China has never considered Hamas a terrorist organization.
David Zweig, head of the Center on China's Transnational Relations at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, calls China's moves to court Hamas a bold undertaking to accomplish what others have failed to do.
"China very much wants to present itself as someone who is willing to talk to Hamas. Unlike other countries, like the United States or Europe, who refuse to talk to Hamas without the precondition of renouncing violence and accepting Israel, China feels that they can invite Hamas to come," said Zweig. "Then, through the process of inviting Hamas and treating Hamas as a member of the international community, then [they can] demand of them the behavior that one would expect of a member of the international community."
Arab League Secretary Amr Moussa on Thursday criticized Western governments for insisting Hamas renounce violence before they will engage with the government it leads. Moussa said the Palestinian question is one of military occupation, not terrorism.
The United States, the European Union and other nations have cut off contacts and direct aid to the Palestinians after Hamas won control of the government in January elections.