Apology letter showed goodwill toward China

Updated: 2014-01-13 01:53

By Li Xiaokun (China Daily)

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Despite limited interaction with China in a political life dominated by regional conflicts, the late Ariel Sharon reportedly once showed his commitment to good ties with Beijing by writing a letter of apology to the then Chinese president for a canceled radar contract.

In 2000, president Jiang Zemin met Sharon, then leader of Israel's Likud party, when visiting Israel. Both sides expressed the willingness to strengthen bonds.

But the relationship was strained later that year when Israel, under pressure from Washington, canceled a deal to sell China early warning radar.

Sharon, who became prime minister in 2001, chose to mend ties by writing a letter of official apology to Jiang and returned the $190 million China had paid, with compensation of $160 million, according to the Beijing Youth Daily newspaper.

Though several diplomatic sources China Daily contacted on Sunday failed to confirm the information as it was too long ago, Li Guofu, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, said he was sure that "Israel was sorry for the result and wanted to compensate China."

"Actually, then Israeli minister of regional cooperation Shimon Peres came to China in 2000 to explain and made such remarks when talking with Chinese scholars."

When then State councilor Tang Jiaxun, China's top official in charge of foreign affairs, visited Israel in 2004, Sharon accepted Beijing's invitation to visit with pleasure. He also invited then Chinese president Hu Jintao to visit his country.

However, Sharon, dominated by troublesome regional conflicts, failed to manage the tour in 2005. In 2006, he was stricken by the devastating stroke, which kept him in a coma for eight years until he passed away on Saturday.

In his only official visit to China, in 1997 as Israel's minister of national infrastructure, Sharon, son of Russian immigrant parents, helped Chinese farmers do farm work and told the interpreter to tell them, "I'm also a farmer."

He also used his hands to stir the cow feed and tasted it, saying it was just the same as that at home, according to Tang Shizeng, a Xinhua photographer who was at the site.

Former Chinese ambassador to Israel Pan Zhanlin recalled in an article that when he visited Sharon at the end of his term as ambassador, Sharon talked a lot about China and told Pan he used to believe the Jewish civilization was unmatched, until he learned more about China's history.