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Israel– China relations and the pervasive annoyance shown by the United States

Israel was the first of the Near and Middle East countries to recognise the People’s Republic of China in 1950, while diplomatic relations have been established since January 24, 1992.

It is important to recall that the relations between Chinese and Jews are deeply rooted in the long history of these two peoples and go back thousands of years.

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations, government officials, scientists, universities and companies have carried out many programmes – through delegations – to deepen special cooperation on various issues such as economy, agriculture, technology and education.

Significant examples of the strengthening of relations can be found, inter alia, in the frequent visits of Chinese government officials to Israel and vice versa. For example, many Israeli Prime Ministers and Presidents have visited China over the years, as have their Chinese counterparts, such as the President of the Republic of China, Jiang Zemin, who visited the country in 2000, and the members of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Liu Chi (2007) and Liu Yunshan (2009). Significant visits were also paid to the country by Vice Premier Hui Yang (2010), Vice Premier Liu Iandong (2016), and a senior representative of the Chinese Parliament, Wang Da (September 2015), etc.

Israel-China relations in many areas are gaining momentum and there is considerable enthusiasm for their nature and depth, particularly for all that relates to business and the supply of Israeli technology.

Over the years, a series of agreements and memoranda of understanding have been signed between Israel and China to establish a free trade zone, to improve the mechanisms for granting visas to the citizens of the other country and to increase airline flights, with the aim of maximising the amount of goods, workers and tourists coming in and out.

China is also the only country in the world with which Israel has a mutual agreement to issue multiple-visit visas for a long period of time. These have borne immediate fruit, with over 100,000 Chinese tourists who have come to Israel since 2018. This means that more tourists come to Israel from China than tocountries such as Italy, Canada and Australia.

The different needs of the two countries are reflected in the nature of the goods and services they purchase from each other. Electronic components account for about half of Israel’s exports to China, and the rest is divided between chemicals, medical equipment, instrumentation, control, etc. Instead, imports from China focus on electrical machinery and equipment, textiles and metals.

China’s weaknesses are precisely the strengths of the Israeli market. Large-scale internal migration, accelerated urbanisation processes, lack of drinking water and management of severe environmental pollutants are some of China’s huge challenges.

Israel can rise up to these challenges with the help of advanced medical technologies, agricultural developments for increasing water shortages and difficult soil conditions, and innovative desalination technologies, etc. The match between the needs of China and Israel is perfect.

Furthermore, Israel has not been indifferent to the One Belt One Road (the Silk Road), i.e. the ambitious plan to connect the world with a network of roads, railways, lanes, ports and harbours, funded by the Asian Infrastructure Bank.

Israel has joined as a member of the Aib, striving to promote the involvement of Israeli companies in Chinese infrastructure projects and to position Israel as a strategic transition country in the trade routes of the modern Silk Road. Meanwhile, Chinese companies are involved in major infrastructure projects in Israel, such as the Minharot Ha Carmel (Carmel Tunnels) project, the construction and operation of the ports of Ashdod and Haifa, as well as the construction of a football stadium and light metro in Gush Dan, etc.

The economic revival of China-Israel relations, together with the leading status of China’s economy in recent years, have led many companies and executives to recognise the attractiveness of the Chinese market and the importance of learning about the Chinese economy and culture.

Obviously all this can only annoy the Administration of the bumbling U.S. President, Joe Biden, who is also supervising China-Israel relations, since Israel is about to be regarded by the White House as its own semi-colony.

According to the United States, Israel should start a rethinking dialogue with Biden’s Administration leading to an understanding of the Israel-China relation pattern so as not to “harm” the important U.S. interests.

The hopes of those who thought that Joe Biden’s election as U.S. President might ease the transatlantic pressure on Israel with regard to China have been dashed. Not only will the pressure not diminish, but it is also likely to increase.

Former Trump administration’s continued insistence on reducing Chinese involvement in Israel has been one of the key issues in the U.S.-Israeli agenda over the last two years. U.S. officials have warned their Israeli counterparts that the lack of a Jewish response would seriously undermine security cooperation between the two countries.

Instead, President Biden and his Administration’s plans should be more careful and encourage cooperation between the powers in specific areas, including the fight against climate change. At the same time, during the election campaign, Biden was more threatening than Trump on a number of China-related issues. Biden described the repression of Uygur Muslims (Weiwuer) in Xinjiang as “genocide” and called President Xi Jinping a “thug”. Not to mention the clumsy President’s epithets against Putin.

After all, one of the clumsy President’s gimmicks in U.S. foreign policy is to rebuild relations with allies in view of a Salem-style crusade against China.

There is no reason to believe that Biden’s Administration will not expect from Israel what it expects from the rest of its allies. The illusion that Israel can continue to “do business as usual” with China and “get along” with U.S. demands is dangerous, because -as already said – Israel is not a U.S. colony.

Moreover, Israeli attempts not to submit to White House diktats could harm not only the relations between the Israeli government and the U.S. Administration, but also the relations with its most significant supporters in the Senate and Congress, who share China’s alleged threat to the United States.

The assessment that China is a tough adversary and a threat to the U.S. national security is the only political-strategic issue on which Democrats and Republicans agree.

For this reason, it is hard to believe that the United States will ignore Chinese investment in Israeli high-tech industry and cooperation between Israeli and Chinese research institutes in the high-tech sector: Big Data, artificial intelligence and cyber issues.

In terms of U.S. national interest, reducing China’s access to advanced technologies is a critical issue. Therefore, the U.S. interference in trade and financial relations in the high-tech industry and in research and development cooperation between Israel and China is probably only a matter of time.

In the two previous crises with the United States over defence exports to China (some fifteen and twenty years ago), Israel believed it would get away with it; hence it tried to implement the agreements with China “and get along” with the United States. In the end, Israel got out badly and there was a crisis in relations with both the United States and China.

In the race for technological superiority, the United States could see the sharing of Israeli knowledge and products with China as a far more significant threat to its national security than radar systems and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).

The Israeli government’s ability to deal with the United States will be severely damaged if its policy towards China is presented as undermining U.S. national security.

Under these circumstances, the Israeli government – under threat – will surely change its approach to the issue, rather than wait for pressure and hope for the best. Israel should start a dialogue on an equal footing with Biden’s Administration to promote an understanding of the pattern of relations between Israel and China so as not to harm important U.S. interests. This could enable Israel to have a respectful dialogue with China on the future relations between the two countries.

As such, this would not be a ‘surrender’ to U.S. diktats. If the Israeli government expects the United States to start using the blackmail of Israeli interests vis-à-vis Iran, Israel in turn should show consideration for U.S. interests vis-à-vis China.

At the same time, however, Israel shall assess China’s aims and moves in the Near and Middle East region and develop a clear policy with it, by developing instruments and channels to achieve its aims in relations with China, without letting the United States put a spoke in its wheel or clip its wings.

Regarding Iran-Israel scenario issues, China has reiterated its proposal to hold an international meeting with the participation of all the countries involved in the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action of July 14, 2015 between Iran and the five UN Security Council countries, plus Germany and the European Union), including the United States, to discuss the U.S. return to the agreement.

On the eve of the first telephone conversation between the U.S. and Chinese Presidents (February 11, 2021), a meeting took place between the U.S. special envoy on the Iranian issue and the Chinese vice-Foreign Minister to coordinate moves in this regard. The proactive mediation on the Iranian nuclear issue may be part of a broad Chinese policy designed to promote cooperation with Biden’s Administration on issues of substance for the United States, in exchange for maintaining important interests for China – such as the relations with Israel – and as part of its position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Few considerations are now appropriate with regard to the Covid-19 pandemic. While Western pharmaceutical companies operate as independent, for-profit commercial entities, the Chinese government leads and orients the research and development efforts of its own governmental and private companies in the same way and integrates them as instruments into its policies through official visits on the international scene, cooperation agreements, vaccination commitments or loans. Therefore, as shown by the map of vaccination certificates in various countries, the vaccines developed in China are among the most sought-after ones.

Israel’s urban population is concentrated and dense. After the pandemic broke out, Covid-19 spread faster. In view of preventing its spread, multiple Israeli departments have strengthened joint prevention and control. At the same time, the Israeli government actively participates in international cooperation, and uses video conferences to learn from China’s anti-epidemic experience.

In conclusion, political diplomacy and the care with which China deals with every aspect, ranging from foreign affairs to health issues, pays off more than clumsy words tossed around randomly.

Giancarlo Elia Valori