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Tuesday, 11 April, 2000, 21:50 GMT 22:50 UK
Chinese president heads for Israel
Chinese military
China's defence ties with Israel are making the US nervous
By Duncan Hewitt in Beijing

Chinese President Jiang Zemin departs for Israel on Wednesday on the first leg of a two-week tour of the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

The visit to Israel is the first by a Chinese head of state - the two countries only established diplomatic relations eight years ago

But Beijing's fast-growing ties with the country it once denounced as a threat to the Arab world have already begun ringing alarm bells in Washington.

Jiang Zemin
President Jiang will be the first Chinese head of state to visit Israel
The Clinton administration has criticised Israel for agreeing to sell China aircraft equipped with the latest Awacs radar technology which could help Beijing control the air in any future conflict with Taiwan.

Israel has countered that the technology is purely defensive.

The row is a reminder of China's interest in a country which offers not only competively-priced military technology, but also agricultural expertise.

Two-way trade, while relatively small, doubled last year to around $600m.

Mideast talks

President Jiang will pay homage to Beijing's traditional support for the Palestinian cause when he meets Yasser Arafat in the West Bank.

But China is increasingly seeking to portray itself as playing a minor but useful role in encouraging all sides to make compromises in the Middle East peace process.

Overall, analysts say the Chinese leader's tour is designed to highlight Beijing's growing international assertiveness and to promote its goal of a consensus against US-domination of world affairs.

South Africa

And China's plans for a ministerial meeting with African states in Beijing later this year are likely to be discussed when Mr Jiang becomes the first Chinese president to visit South Africa.

He will also spend a day in Egypt and visit Greece and Turkey.

Greek dissatisfaction with the bombing of Yugoslavia last year was seen by Beijing as a welcome sign of divisions within Nato.

In Turkey, meanwhile, Mr Jiang is likely to seek assurances that Ankara will not provide backing for separatist groups campaigning for an independent state in Xinjiang, China's Turkic-speaking Islamic north-western region.

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10 Apr 00 | Middle East
Analysis: The China connection
02 Apr 00 | Middle East
Israel seeks US cruise missiles
03 Apr 00 | Middle East
US anger at Israeli arms sales
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