25 Years of formal relations between Israel & China

Shared history and mutually vested economic interests facilitate the creation of deep bilateral ties. In the case of the Sino-Israeli dynamic, the past 25 years of formal diplomatic ties have seen the realization of both cultural and economic exchange expand exponentially. To highlight just how far and expansive cooperation between Beijing and Jerusalem have come in our brief official relationship, this SIGNAL Note will look back on 25 years of diplomatic relations, and the potential impact Sino-Israeli collaboration could have on the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI).

Reflecting the nature of the Sino-Israeli exchange, a notable development has been the important technological advancements and investments from Israeli startups into the Chinese market. Another reflection of advancing relations between the Jewish State and the Middle Kingdom are academic cooperation, high level diplomatic interactions and the economic & technological complementarity of the Israeli and Chinese systems. In line with the core aims of the SIGNAL Note series, we will expound upon the strategic role Israeli experts and exports could play in the implementation of the BRI and Chinese domestic goals as outlined in the 13th 5-year plan. 

In essences this SIGNAL Note 25 aims to commemorate 25 years of formal diplomatic ties between the Israel and China and reflect upon the impact these ties could have on the advancement of China’s broader international policy projections and investments.

Early elements driving the Sino-Israel relationship 

As is often the case with international investment and diplomatic cooperation with the Jewish state, Israeli innovation and technological superiority have guided the interest of the international community. In the case of Chinese interest in Israel, military technology, computer processing R&D, and creative water management systems have driven the exchange. Over the years, as the two countries came to know each other better, the partnership became more dynamic between valued Chinese and Israeli associates. Examples include the Chinese management of the Ports of Haifa and Ashdod, the construction of the Carmel tunnels and the Tel Aviv light rail. On Chinese soil, Israeli intuitively designed and data driven solutions are actively changing the face of water management (Shouguang/water city) and agricultural techniques across the vast territory of China. 

Events leading to the Comprehensive Innovation Partnership

In March 2017, President Xi Jinping announced the establishment of a Comprehensive Innovation Partnership between Israel and China. This momentous development signified a great leap forward in China-Israel cooperation. This Partnership crystalized the many efforts at all levels of China’s and Israel’s society – from the arts to technology, from media to tourism, from innovation to industry, that have been made over the past 25years. During that time, Israel and China forged tangible economic and political ties due in no small part to the quality of Israeli technological innovation and the immense potential of the Chinese market and China’s expertise in large scale project management. Also, important to note is the strategic contribution of Israel’s innovation to various projects within the BRI and the wider domestic goals of the PRC. 

As we have addressed in previous SIGNAL Notes, the ability of Israeli engineers to innovate solutions to security and agricultural issues has significantly increased its importance to Chinese players. From water management and clean energy to UAS and emergency medical response, Israel has proven its worth in helping to avert disaster and increase production around the globe. But also important is the people to people exchange motivated by growing curiosity in each other’s cultures and societies. These are reflected in the arts and a notable increase in tourism in both directions.

Arts and Cultural exchange

The BRI has set ambitions goals beyond managing production capacity and capital investments. Incorporating the essential cultural component, part and parcel to Asian society with economic cooperation the BRI projects to build people-to-people cooperation between China and the 65+ nations along the historic Silk Road. In establishing a multidimensional approach to achieving win-win collaboration emphasizing academic exchange and broad cultural understanding the BRI’s aims seems pared perfectly to Israel’s scholarly and cultural assets. (pictured below, the Inaugural Forum of Presidents of Israel-China Higher Education Institutions on March 29th, 2016 in Jerusalem)

As recent agreements have illustrated (See additional resources) Israeli universities and government officials have prioritized scholarly cooperation with Chinese institutes to build a more comprehensive and astute perception of China beyond its economic strength. In line with the core goals of the BRI of expanding Cultural exchange, Israel offers an interested and educated audience for Chinese history, culture and arts. Israel is also sees its role in the BRI as a vehicle to convey a more balanced perception of the reality of the Middle East for future thought leaders and policy analysts across the various nations participating. 

More and more Israeli authors are finding an interested audience in China. Yoni’s Last Stand, the Story of Entebbe, both authored by Iddo Netanyahu (brother to Israel’s Prime Minister) was well received in China. Amb. Itamar Rabinovitch’s new book on Yitzhak Rabin will be published in Chinese due in no small part in growing Chinese interest into the modern history of Israel. Additionally, the newly published book by Yaakov Katz & Amir Bohbot titled: The Weapon’s Wizards: How Israel became a High-Tech Military Superpower, would surely be a welcome addition to Chinese libraries across the country the country.

Such exchange will surely be enhanced by the BRI, offering the opportunity for Israel to generate a more honest understanding of its people and society while strengthening ties to the PRC through art, music, dance, literature and culture.

Israel’s Strategic value to the BRI

Within the larger framework of the BRI, Israel increasingly appears to be a viable partner in building regional stability through its technological expertise, battle tested security understanding and increasing political relations across the developing world. Through a more comprehensive interchange with Chinese investors, Israeli innovation has taken route in Chinese markets to the betterment of supplier and consumer. While cultivating a dynamic where Israel can act as a technological support structure for massive infrastructure, agriculture and data system management for broader Chinese investment, Jerusalem has also made significant efforts to expand academic, scientific and diplomatic exchange with the Middle Kingdom.

Comprehensive partnerships do not happen overnight. The status needed to reach this level of significant diplomatic and economic agreement requires far-reaching cultural understanding and academic exchange with the ultimate goal of enabling high level diplomatic interactions and economic synergy. For Israel and China, the comprehensive innovation partnership has materialized in form of dozens of Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) between the top Israeli and Chinese universities, as well as the formation of the Israel-China Task force to promote government level exchange. Coinciding with Israel’s own ‘Opening Up’ to the broader Arab world, the expansion of Sino-Israel relations has enabled fruitful cooperation beyond Israel’s tech expertise.
2016, the year leading up to the establishment of the Comprehensive Innovation Partnership, saw high level political visits by Minister Yisrael Katz in China as well as Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong visit to Israel. Highlighting the growing “public and diplomatic exchange between Beijing and Jerusalem, an Israeli parliamentary delegation arrived in China on April 10, 2016 on a five-day official visit. The delegation was headed by Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein and included Knesset Members; Eli Alalof, Michal Rozin and Yaakov Peri.
A signal of improved ties as of 2016 was the September visit to Israel by the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China, the Speaker of the Chinese Parliament, Zhang Dejiang. This visit reciprocated that of his host Knesset Chairman Yuli Edelstein and represented the highest-level visit by senior Chinese leadership to Israel since President of the People’s Republic of China, Jiang Zemin’s visit in 2000.”1

Indicative of a developing investment ecosystem and raising governmental relations in Israel over the past decade, Israel’s exports to China have risen to $3.3 billion in 2016, with technology, cybersecurity & agricultural tech – leading the way.”2 Sino-Israel total bilateral trade volume surpassed $11 billion in 2016.3 In the past four years alone Chinese investors have invested over $15 billion in Israeli companies building significant Chinese momentum within Israeli startups.4 The importance of the increased academic and technical collaboration between Israeli and Chinese partners and the sheer size of total FDI is reflected in the establishment of the Comprehensive Innovation Partnership.

Potential areas for cooperation 

The potential for extensive, cross sector cooperation between Israeli and Chinese partners is virtually limitless. Moreover the needs of China’s New Silk Road Initiative have served to increase both the areas of potential cooperation and the imperative to do so. 

BRI Economic corridors

As the PRC develops the China-Pakistan and China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridors the possibility of Israeli technology (in the form of drones, satellites and an assortment of Security and Counter Terror (CT) strategies) could be game changing in mitigating regional- terror based- instability. Simply put, implementing Israel’s industry-leading security approach would decrease investment risk, while promoting the long-term viability of any number of projects in volatile areas. Israel’s decades long technological R&D advancements have provided market ready solutions to effectively manage security threats remotely. For China, and the BRI, Israel’s security and CT solution could be the difference between effective cooperation and geopolitical discord.

Port Management & Big Data

The ‘Chinese Dream’ of a moderately prosperous society goes hand in hand with the expansive Chinese investment in international port facilities in Asia and the Mediterranean. For Israel, a nation with 2 major shipping hubs involving Chinese contractors, the possibilities of building synergy between Israeli Big Data analytics and Chinese Port Management facilities is very enticing. With Israeli support in the array of data analytic resources, China and its projects along the New Silk Road could gain a more comprehensive understanding of international trade and commodities transactions. 

Potential Sino-Israel engagement in the next 25 years 

As Israel and China form deeper bonds through innovation cooperation and scholarly collaboration, the prospects for meaningful ties going beyond the driver of economic gain becomes a reality. For each nation, the possibility of greater market access and policy synergy appears to be viable catalyst to increasing engagement in all areas. If recent years are any indication, the Sino-Israel dynamic will build concrete levels of good will in the political realm as well as economic investment and scientific exchange to the advancement of Beijing and Jerusalem. In realizing the value of Israeli innovation within China and in the expansive projects of the BRI, the PRC’s elevation of the Israel-China partnership to a Comprehensive Innovation level could prove to be a vital element in the achievement of China’s 13th 5-year plan and the realization of the BRI in Asia and beyond.

Additional Resources  
1) SIGNAL Note 24
2) SIGNAL Note 22
3) Culture an essential piece for Belt and Road Initiative
4) SIGNAL Note 4
5) How David Became Goliath: The Secret of Israel’s Military Success

Recent SIGNAL Publications

Security topics on Israel and the Middle East
Israel & The Belt & Road Initiative Blue Book Essay

List of Major Agreements Signed in 2016

1. An agreement that will allow Israeli passport holders to obtain a ten-year visa for multiple visits to China (today, a tourist visa is valid for three months from its date of issue).

2. An agreement between the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Chinese Academy of Medical Science that will promote joint stem cell and other research. 

3. An agreement between the Technion and the Hebrew University and the Chinese Scholarship Council that will allow Chinese doctoral and post-doctoral candidates to conduct their research at these Israeli institutions. 

4. An agreement to bring young Chinese leadership and diplomatic delegations to Israel. 

5. An agreement to promote technological cooperation to focus on water and energy R&D. 

6. An agreement to establish a Chinese cultural center in Israel. 

7. An agreement to establish an ecological park in the city of Dongying, where Israeli agricultural technologies will be developed. 

8. An agreement on continued cooperation between the Israeli Health Ministry and its Chinese counterpart that will include the exchange of experts and joints seminars on a host of topics. 

9. An agreement to send Israeli agricultural, healthcare, and entrepreneurship experts to China and to hold training programs both in Israel and China. 

10. An agreement between the Natalie Corporation and the Changzhou municipality to establish a joint healthcare service project and projects in other fields using telecommunications.

11. An exchange-student agreement between the Higher Education Council in Israel and the Chinese Education Ministry. 

12. An agreement to promote cooperation in entrepreneurship and innovation between Israeli and Chinese universities. 

13. An agreement between the Israeli Agriculture Ministry and the Chinese Science and Technology Ministry to establish a joint agricultural research project. 

14. An Innovation Committee comprised of more than ten government ministries and agencies from Israel & China, facilitating and a joint economic task force will be established. 

15. Tsinghua University signed a partnership Agreement for China-Israel Innovation and Entrepreneurship with Israeli Alon Incubator Pingshan New District of Shenzhen, and China Fortune Land Development Co.

16. Jilin University signed a framework agreement with Asia Science & Technology Ltd., Israel regarding utilization of the Israeli In-Situ Methods for Shale Oil and Heavy Oil Projects in China and worldwide.

17. Tsinghua University agreed to advance education and research with Tel Aviv University as well as to further develop the XIN Center based at Tsinghua University and their ongoing cooperation in the development of nano-technology. 

18. Peking University signed agreements with Tel Aviv University to establish a Food Safety Center. 

19. Peking University and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem signed an MOU to promote direct academic exchange. 

20. Nanjing University, Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem all signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish a Sino-Israel School of Jewish Studies.

21. Shandong University and the China Agricultural University both signed a Student Exchange Agreement with The Hebrew University of Jerusalem while Shandong University also signed an academic collaboration framework agreement with Bar-Ilan University.

22. signings took place between Jilin University and Ben-Gurion University which signed an MOU and East China Normal University (ENCU) and Haifa University which signed an agreement for the co-establishment of ECNU-UH Joint Translational Science & Technology Research Institute. 

23. The Galilee International Management Institute (GIMI) signed a five-year cooperation agreement with the Chinese government to deepen cooperation in the field of agriculture.

24. The Chinese government is investing US$3million to construct a building at ENCU that will be fully dedicated to the technology research cooperation with Haifa University. 

  1. Sino-Israel Relations in 2016 Blue Book Essay from SIGNAL 
  2. Ben-David, Y., & Martina, M. (2017, March 20). As part of Asia pivot, Netanyahu pushes Israeli hi-tech in China. 
  3. Ahren, R., Tobin, A., Solomon, S., Stuart Winer and Times of Israel staff, Magid, J., Glassman, E., . . . Tal, A. (2017, March 19). Israel aims to become world’s 15th largest economy by 2025 — minister. 
  4. Solomon, S., Tobin, A., Stuart Winer and Times of Israel staff, Magid, J., Glassman, E., Shimoni, A., . . . Tal, A. (2016, December 29). Israel tech thrived in 2016, looks forward to 2017 thrills.