China on Monday implicitly criticised Israel’s air strikes in Syria as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas both visited the country to meet top leaders.
The raids on military sites outside Damascus a day earlier raised fears of Syria’s 26-month-long conflict spilling over into the region.
“We are opposed to the use of force and believe that the sovereignty of any country should be respected,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular press briefing when asked about the strikes.
She added that China urged all sides to “refrain from actions that may escalate tensions”.
Her comments came as Netanyahu arrived on a five-day trip to China, which will end in Beijing with meetings with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.
It overlaps with a three-day trip by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas to Beijing, where he met the two Chinese leaders on Monday.
Abbas is set to depart on Tuesday and the two Middle Eastern leaders are not expected to meet while in China.
But Hua said Beijing’s hosting the two men showed its support for the peace process between the sides.
China has traditionally remained distant from Middle Eastern affairs, although it has in recent years begun to take a more active diplomatic role.
During their talks, which were preceded by a full military welcome ceremony, Xi reiterated China’s support for Palestinian statehood and peaceful coexistence with Israel, Hua said.
An independent state of Palestine was “the alienable right of the Palestinian people and holds the key to solving the Palestinian issue”, Hua said in describing Xi’s remarks.
“At the same time the survival and reasonable security concerns of Israel should be fully respected.”
Abbas noted that China was the first country to set up an office in the Palestinian territories in the 1960s.
“I appreciate China’s high position in the world nowadays,” he told Xi. “In recent years all the Chinese governments have adopted wise policies that have effectively had benefits and avoided harm.”
China established diplomatic ties with Israel in 1992.
Chinese state-run media have called Abbas’ trip a state visit — reserved for the head of a country — while the trip by Netanyahu, who is not a head of state, was described by officials as an “official visit”.
Sunday’s strikes in Syria were the second such reported attack in 48 hours, both believed to be intended to prevent weapons from reaching Israel’s regional arch-foe, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
The UN chief Ban Ki-moon appealed for restraint after the event while Syrian officials warned that “missiles are ready” to retaliate.
US President Barack Obama, speaking after the first reported attack, said Israel was justified in protecting itself.