By Michael Martina
BEIJING (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' envoy to China said on Friday that Beijing backs their United Nations membership bid, a day after France indicated it would support a diplomatic upgrade for Palestine.
Bassam al-Salhi, in China on a three-day trip to discuss tensions in Gaza, echoed earlier calls from China's Foreign Ministry that Beijing would support Palestinian statehood and its entry into the United Nations.
"They (China) support the Palestinian right for ending occupation and building a Palestinian state ..and support the bid of the Palestinian membership in the United Nations," Salhi told Reuters in an interview after meeting Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.
China's official Xinhua new agency quoted Yang as saying China "supports Palestine's entry into the United Nations and other international organizations and understands, respects and backs Palestine's bid for the U.N. observer status".
After their drive for full U.N. membership failed in the U.N. Security Council last year amid U.S. opposition, the Palestinians have launched a watered-down bid for recognition as a "non-member state", similar to the Vatican's U.N. status.
This request can be approved by the 193-nation U.N. General Assembly and seems certain to pass.
Washington says it favors eventual statehood for the Palestinians, but wants it to come as a result of negotiations with Israel. The United States can block full recognition of Palestine as a U.N. member at the Security Council, where it has a veto.
On Thursday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius indicated support, reminding the French Senate of a campaign promise for international recognition of a Palestinian state made by President Francois Hollande.
Beijing has kept close ties with the Palestinians for decades, but in recent years, it has cultivated stronger relations with Israel, especially in the field of defense.
Salhi downplayed China's new ties while lashing out at the United States, saying Beijing has played an "active and vital" role on Palestine's behalf.
"We could not ask China not to make these ties (with Israel). What we need is more balance from all the international community," Salhi said, adding that Washington had "given nothing in the past 15 or 16 years".
A permanent member of the U.N. Security Council with veto powers, China has kept a low profile in Middle East diplomacy, and had little success in off-and-on attempts over the years to mediate in the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
China's Foreign Ministry has repeatedly called for both sides to resume peace talks, and said it was concerned about Israel's recent large-scale military operations around Gaza.
(Reporting by Michael Martina, Editing by Sui-Lee Wee and Jason Webb)