(Communicated by the Prime Minister’s Media Adviser)

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon met today (Tuesday), 28 December 2004, with Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Tang Jiaxuan, one of nine members of the Chinese State Council and a former Foreign Minister. The Chinese Deputy Prime Minister is on a regional visit and has met with Abu Mazen and Abu Ala in the Palestinian Authority (PA).  In Israel, he has met with Industry, Trade and Employment Minister Ehud Olmert, Tourism Minister Gideon Ezra and Labor Party Chairman MK Shimon Peres.

At the beginning of the meting, which was held in an excellent atmosphere, the Chinese Deputy Prime Minister invited Prime Minister Sharon to visit China in order to further improve bilateral relations.  He said that bilateral relations have greatly improved since Prime Minister Sharon took office.

Prime Minister Sharon discussed his previous visit to China, which made a great impression on him: “It is customary to refuse an invitation the first and second times, but I believe that I will accept your invitation right now.”  Prime Minister Sharon invited Chinese President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao to visit Israel.

Prime Minister Sharon said: “Israel will implement the Disengagement Plan in full, according to the timetable that has been determined.  Implementing the Disengagement Plan has the potential of putting the diplomatic negotiations back on track, according to the Roadmap, if the Palestinians do what they are supposed to in fighting and eliminating terrorism and in moving forward with comprehensive government reforms.”

Prime Minister Sharon added that we view recent developments in the PA as an historic opportunity, in the framework of which it will be possible to advance the diplomatic process.  If a new PA leadership is elected that does not support the way of terrorism, fights its infrastructures and dismantles its organizations, the response of the Israeli side will be positive and we will be ready to go towards them, assist them and even coordinate with them on various elements regarding the disengagement.

Prime Minister Sharon said: “In order for a new leadership to be created, that has public legitimacy, the main thing in the current stage is to concentrate on moving forward with the electoral process in the PA.”

Prime Minister Sharon said that Israel would aid the electoral process in the PA by assisting the international observers; he noted that China will dispatch six observers in order to supervise a proper electoral process.

The Chinese Deputy Prime Minister said that he also believes that there are signs of change in the region and commended the steps that Israel has taken to assist the electoral process in the PA, steps that prove Israel is set on peace.

The Chinese Deputy Prime Minister updated Prime Minister Sharon on his talks in the PA and on his impressions of his meetings there.

Prime Minister Sharon emphasized that Israel will not suffice with words but wants to see tangible steps against terrorism.  He added that we have yet to see even the smallest of steps in this area by the Palestinian leadership.

Prime Minister Sharon briefed his guest on the videoconference he held this morning with Foreign Ministry representatives in Beijing and expressed his desire to strengthen bilateral cooperation and to increase the scope of bilateral trade, which is currently worth over $2 billion.

Prime Minister Sharon told his guest that Israel is looking forward to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and that he hopes that Israeli companies will have an equal opportunity to bid for Olympics-related contracts, particularly regarding communications and security.  The Chinese Deputy
Prime Minister said that China would be delighted if many Israeli companies would bid for contracts ahead of the Olympics.