Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday started his first official visit to China, a country that played an influential role in his family history.
Olmert's grandparents moved to Harbin, capital of northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, from Russia to flee persecution in the late 19th Century. Olmert's parents grew up in Harbin before moving to Israel.
Before Olmert's father died at the age of 88 his last words were in Chinese.
"The Chinese culture is part of my heritage and part of my earliest memory as a young kid in the state of Israel," Olmert said in an interview before heading to China.
About 25,000 Jewish people lived in Harbin in the 1920s, the largest Jewish community in East Asia at that time. They developed a complete social system of their own and were called the "Harbin Jews".
Harbin and other Chinese cities, such as Shanghai, also became home to Jews fleeing Europe's Nazi Holocaust.
"We feel a lot of gratefulness for the Chinese people for the very warm and friendly manner in which they treated Jewish people both in Shanghai and in Harbin," Olmert said.
"So China is not another country for me. China is very much a part of my family heritage and memory of my family. And we have great love for the Chinese people," he added.
Olmert, as Israeli deputy prime minister, visited Harbin Jewish Cemetery in 2004, paying respects to his grandfather's tomb. But he won't during his current three-day China tour.
However, cemetery worker Zhao Xing promised to do the honors on Olmert's behalf. "We will pay respects to the tomb and guard the historical heritage witnessing the great friendship between Chinese and Jewish nationalities."
Wang Jian, a researcher with Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences,, said, "It was the common suffering that closely united the two great nationalities."
The visit, marking the 15th anniversary of the establishment of China-Israel diplomatic relations, is expected to focus on economic and technology issues, analysts say.
China-Israel trade in 2005 hit three billion U.S. dollars and will reach five billion dollars in 2008, according to statistics from the Israeli embassy in Beijing.
But the Middle East issue will also be on the agenda of Olmert's visit, which includes talks with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao.
Olmert and the Chinese leaders "will talk about the Middle East and Iranian nuclear issues", said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao on Tuesday.
China has raised its profile in mediating the Middle East peace process, calling for peaceful negotiations and dialogue.
"Anything China can contribute to facilitate the political dialogue is something Israel will always welcome," Olmert said in the interview prior to his visit.