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Israel-China Ties Are a Very Good Thing

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A women wears a bright red hat in the style of the People's Republic of China's national flag, as she visits the Forbidden City in Beijing, China, on Thursday, July 28, 2016
A women wears a bright red hat in the style of the People's Republic of China's national flag, as she visits the Forbidden City in Beijing, China, on Thursday, July 28, 2016Credit: Bloomberg

Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan is visiting Israel from Monday through Thursday. Wang, along with Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will head the fourth meeting of the China-Israel Innovation Committee, a kind of intergovernmental meeting that includes 13 government ministries from each side, in which they will discuss increasing cooperation in varied areas of the economy and trade, science and technology, health, agriculture, environmental quality, education and academy.

Netanyahu and Chinese President Xi Jinping also agreed last year to upgrade the relationship between the countries to a Comprehensive Innovation Partnership. This means that the huge Chinese economy, the second largest in the world, and Chinese government ministries, are getting a loud and clear message from the leadership in Beijing: Go and do business and invest in the advanced and innovative Israeli economy.

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China has become Israel’s second most important export market after the United States, with exports of about $2.8 billion in the first half of 2018 – an increase of 80 percent (!) compared to the first half of 2017. The two countries are conducting advanced negotiations for a free-trade zone, which would help Israeli exporters to compete in one of the world’s growing markets, as well as help Israeli consumers benefit from low-priced consumer goods. Chinese investment in Israeli companies are important for the Israeli high-tech industry and are estimated to account an average of about 20 percent of total foreign investments in the industry.

Recently there have been increasing warnings against allowing China to participate in projects and investments in Israel. There are some who go as far as to deem any Chinese economic involvement in our region as a threat to our interests and a danger to our economic independence. These statements are damaging to relations between the countries.

There is no question that every country has to safeguard its security and strategic infrastructure. But that’s a far cry from the repeated statements, including in the media, to the effect that the Chinese should not be allowed to come to Israel – and such behavior even causes damage. We should remember that mutual trade with China totals $11 billion annually. Israel is not a country like Djibouti or Somalia. The Israeli economy is strong enough, and it is our clear interest to invite many countries to invest here and to purchase high-tech products manufactured by Israeli firms and startups.

To bring people like Jack Ma, CEO and founder of the e-commerce giant Alibaba, to visit Israel again at the same time as the vice president for the purpose of investing here, and to present Israel as a country that attracts investments, we must encourage the Chinese leadership to increase cooperation with us.

Israel really is enjoying an unprecedented flourishing in its relations with the Far East in general, and is conducting advanced contacts to sign agreements free trade zone agreements with Korea, Vietnam and India. For example, many trade agreements were signed with the Philippines during the visit here of President Duterte, and Israeli exports to the country have doubled.

Israel is looking eastward, but the East is looking at Israel too. It sees a country that’s worth investing in, where one can purchase varied products characterized by outstanding technology.

Israel must therefore find the right balance: We must convey to the world and to the East in particular that we are a country with confidence in its capabilities, unafraid of exposure to new markets, while we safeguard our security and strategic interests. This message, which is also true of additional countries with which we have ties – and the complementary steps that are required – in themselves constitute a first-rate economic, security and strategic national asset.

The writer is the deputy director general for Asia and the Pacific in the Foreign Ministry.

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