Opinion |

Israel Has Nothing to Fear From China

Zhan Yongxin
Zhan Yongxin
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Vice President of China Wang Qishan in Jerusalem, April 3, 2019.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Vice President of China Wang Qishan in Jerusalem, April 3, 2019. Credit: Kobe Gideon / GPO
Zhan Yongxin
Zhan Yongxin

There’s a Chinese fable about a traveller who walks beneath the moon, and thinks his own shadow is tailing him. He tries to run away from this imaginary ghost but no matter how hard he tries, the shadow remains close behind, and scares him to death. The story teaches us that we must not be fooled by unfounded suspicions, which can cost us dearly.

Unfortunately, the fable keeps repeating itself. Nowadays, there are certain people so obsessed with bashing China that they are pulling all the strings they can to frame arguments against the win-win cooperation between China and other countries.

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Some people have claimed that China’s investment and infrastructure projects in Israel are aimed at stealing Israeli intelligence, controlling its strategic resources and threatening its security. However, they have failed to provide any concrete evidence. What these people are doing reminds me of some well-recorded historical incidents. In 2003, some people insisted that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and then launched an unjust war. In 2013, PRISM [a massive surveillance program operated by the United States National Security Agency] shocked the world. Someone who accuses others of intelligence gathering had operated a systematic hacking and tapping campaign for years, even targeting their allies.

In China, we have another saying related to ghosts, that anyone who never did anything wrong need not fear being visited by a ghost at night, meaning that we need not fear any attacks on our integrity as long as we have a clear conscience. However, with the increase of groundless accusations against China and its misleading effects, I find it a must to make the following clarifications:

Firstly, China highly values its friendship and cooperation with Israel.

In recent years, the China-Israel Innovative Comprehensive Partnership has made remarkable progress and yielded fruitful results in trade, infrastructure, innovation, culture and people-to-people exchanges. But given Israel’s territorial size, market volume, regional situation, the external pressure on China-Israel cooperation and the few well-known setbacks in our relations, Israel has yet to become a focus of business for Chinese companies. In 2018, China-Israel bilateral trade accounted for only 0.3 percent of China’s total foreign trade, and China’s investment in Israel came to 0.4 percent of China’s global investment. The numbers show the huge potential for our cooperation.

Secondly, China-Israel cooperation is win-win in nature. Chinese companies and investment have brought tangible benefits to Israel. Take Ashdod’s new port. The Chinese company purchases goods and services from over 200 Israeli partners, creating thousands of local jobs. In the Tel Aviv Red Line project, the Chinese company has signed supply contracts with more than 300 Israeli counterparts and trained a first group of Israeli workers to operate the Tunnel Boring Machine.

Thirdly, contrary to some claims, Chinese investment and cooperation with Israel have no ulterior motives. Take Haifa’s new port. The SIPG, the Chinese company that won the 25-year concession, has remained the world’s largest port company for nine consecutive years. In 2018 alone, the SIPG processed over 42 million TEUs [an approximate 20-foot equivalent unit for cargo capacity]. Putting this number in perspective, if the new Haifa port is completed on time and reaches peak capacity without a glitch, it will process only 1.9 million TEUs per year.

If not for Israel’s targeted promotion and invitation, the SIPG would not have had any interest in joining the bidding. Someone goes even further and accuses China of seeking to use the Haifa port to surveil foreign naval fleets. I trust that anyone with basic military knowledge can see how ridiculous that accusation is. Does China really need to apply this outdated method to collect intelligence?

Fourthly, the Chinese companies investing or doing business in Israel are all independent market entities, and they should not be subject to unwarranted attacks.

The Chinese companies in Israel are either publicly listed or affiliated with a listed corporation. They may have government investment but they also receive huge sums from elsewhere, including Europe and America. Moreover, like all other listed companies, the Chinese ones watch out for shareholders’ interests, disclose information and bear full responsibility for profits and losses. In short, they are transparent and subject to market supervision.

In Israel, every contract awarded to Chinese companies is done via a fair and transparent international bidding process. They are purely market activities. The allegation that the Chinese government is controlling Israeli infrastructure or transmitting sensitive data is nothing but a myth. Rumors stop at a wise man. Israel is an independent, sovereign state, and China respects its legitimate security concerns. China is not interested in sowing discord or harming Israel’s special relations with other countries. At the same time, the win-win cooperation between China and Israel should also be respected. I believe the China-Israel friendship is strong enough to withstand external pressure, and the Jewish people are wise enough to choose the course of action that best serves its interests.

The writer is the Chinese ambassador to Israel.

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