Li, China’s No 2 official, made the comments during talks with Iranian First Vice-President Mohammad Mokhber on the margins of Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meetings in Bishkek on Thursday. Their meeting in the Kyrgyz capital came three months after Iran became the ninth full member of the Beijing-led, security-focused bloc.
Tehran has been a long-term supporter of Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah. However, it has denied involvement in Hamas’ deadly October 7 cross-border attack on Israel that triggered Israeli air strikes, artillery shelling and tank raids into Hamas-controlled Gaza.
Iranian media said Li and Mokhber touched upon the Gaza conflict in their talks, quoting the Chinese premier as expressing Beijing’s interest in “more coordination with Tehran” while calling for Islamic countries to “work together to de-escalate tensions”.
“The tragedies in Gaza have increased the instability of the Middle East, and in the meantime, Beijing’s position is quite clear. It wants a quick ceasefire and the protection of civilians from all sides and not [the] spreading [of] tension,” Li was quoted as saying by Tehran’s semi-official Fars News Agency.
However, a readout from Chinese state news agency Xinhua did not mention Li’s remarks on the Gaza conflict.
According to Xinhua, Li pledged Beijing’s continued support for Tehran in safeguarding its national sovereignty, saying it would “strongly oppose any external forces interfering in Iran’s internal affairs”.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has condemned the “collective punishment” of Gaza’s civilians and held talks on the matter with several international counterparts in recent weeks, including those from Iran, Brazil, the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Zhai Jun, China’s special envoy for the Middle East, is touring the region to forge a peace consensus. Visiting Saudi Arabia on Thursday, Zhai repeated China’s call for a ceasefire and sadness at the continued civilian casualties. He has yet to visit Iran on this trip.
According to Xinhua’s report from Bishkek, Li told Mokhber that China stood ready to practise “true multilateralism, and safeguard the common interests of developing countries”, as he pledged greater communication with Iran within multilateral mechanisms such as the UN, SCO and Brics.
Iran and other Middle East powerhouses have been the most eager respondents as Beijing increasingly presents itself as a leader of the developing world, and backs moves to expand international groupings such as Brics and the SCO.
China and Iran should implement their “comprehensive cooperation plan”, Li said, while highlighting education, culture, tourism and people-to-people exchanges.
“China is ready to work with Iran to implement the important consensuses reached by the two heads of state, enrich the connotation of the China-Iran comprehensive strategic partnership, and bring more benefits to the two peoples,” the Xinhua readout quoted him as saying.
Mokhber said Iran was willing to work with China, its “comprehensive strategic partner” on belt and road cooperation, referring to the Beijing-led multinational infrastructure initiative. He also pledged Iran’s resolve to strengthen connectivity and mutually beneficial cooperation in various fields.
He invited China to invest more in Iran including in infrastructure and energy projects and the tourism industry, saying developing China ties represented “one of the serious” aims of Tehran.