Inaugural Conference on Israel’s China Policy

China’s BRI has identified the necessity of policy coordination, peer-to-peer bonds and unimpeded trade as the prime catalyst for broader international cooperation and mutual economic gain. In this SIGNAL note we will focus on how the recent, SIGNAL initiated ‘Israel’s China Policy’ conference helps promote the core focus of the BRI forming the basis for stronger and comprehensive bonds between the Middle Kingdom and the Jewish State. To articulate the impact of the ‘Israel’s China Policy’ conference on the expansion and of Sino-Israel relations, this SIGNAL note will highlight the perspectives from the participants, panels with the goal of illustrating how a cohesive approach to China could help facilitate productive dialog and closer geopolitical and economic connections through the context of the Belt & Road Initiative. 

On September 29, SIGNAL and the Institute for Policy and Strategy (IPS) at IDC Herzliya hosted the inaugural Israel’s China Policy conference. The Conference provided a fruitful dialog concerning Israel’s role in the BRI, economic cooperation and the future of Sino-Israel relations. To lead the conversation SIGNAL culled some of the finest minds from a variety of experts from the intelligence, academic, security and diplomatic communities within Israel as well as China. In this nexus, the inaugural Israel’s China Policy Conference provided the impetus for critical discussions concerning, in real terms, how the Israel China relationship can make broad advancements and what basic steps are essential in facilitating this growth.

Israel & the BRI: Economic and Political implications of China’s Silk Road Initiative

In the first session of the conference Israel’s possible impact in the BRI was addressed from the perspective of Israeli based venture capitalists and government officials. From an investment viewpoint Dorian Barak highlighted the tactical disadvantage Chinese investors face in Israeli markets, as they lack Israel based R&D facilities which act as the feeder for international angel capital from the US and Europe. In his vast experience as Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Indigo Strategic Partners L.P., Mr. Barak emphasized the quintessential element of domestic R&D facilities as the means to effectively enter the Israeli technological market, fully utilizing capital and peer-to peer binds to gain increased market share and real developments which could be integrated into Chinese markets at a lower cost. Per Mr. Barak’s remarks, an increased long term Chinese presence in the Israeli tech community, China could gain exponentially greater value from their investment on scale to that of American or European holdings by shifting to a R&D model already proven successful in developing innovation within the Jewish State, Representing the Israeli government, Yossi Katribas from the Prime Minister’s office and Cpt. Yigal Maor, the Director General for the Ministry of Transportation and Road Safety provided a nuanced outlook into how Israel could be a viable partner in the various developments of the BRI. As Cpt. Yigal Maor reflected, China’s impact on transportation and the facilitation of trade globally is second to none. Thus, if Israel intends to gain greater traction with China utilizing its capacity in technology and innovation to promote and support China’s investment in the infrastructure needed to enable unimpeded trade will significantly increase the value Israel adds to China in the context of the BRI and beyond. 

From flourishing economic and R&D cooperation to the realities of Israeli and Chinese Geopolitics

The second session of the policy conference provided the fascinating positions and outlooks of Prof. Uzi Arad and Ephraim HaLevi and Dr. Eyal Propper, Deputy Head for Strategic Affairs at the MFA,(Pictured on the R) clarified in clear terms what is essential to facilitating a more symbiotic and fruitful relationship between Israel and China. According to Prof. Arad, one of the premier voices in the Israeli defense and intelligence establishment, in order for Israel to align its value to the areas in which China views as most important a Grand Strategy should be integrated in to Israel’s in roads in to the Middle Kingdom. 

Prof. Arad stressed how a comprehensive approach to China considers the value and significance of history and culture as well as economics and the geopolitical realities. Moreover, it is obligatory to internalize these values if Israel intends to get a practical understanding of China. In this vein, Prof. Arad keenly identified a vital and currently missing element in Israel’s China Strategy, that being a long-term Sino-centric approach to the Middle Kingdom. From this perspective if Israel can adept this mindset it possesses the potential to provide positive and pragmatic means of economic and geopolitical cooperation. In forming a more comprehensive partnership with China, Israel can optimize its international relations beyond its historic alley, the United States. In diversifying ties Israel gain increased global impact, while leveraging the value it has achieved in its broad and long standing relations with the US. 

Echoing this stance for the first time in Israel’s history, a government official publicly declared that Israel needs a comprehensive approach to China – this was stated unequivocally by Dr. Eyal Propper, Deputy Head of Arms Control in the MFA, during his talk in the 2nd session of the conference. In affirming the necessity, Dr. Propper has enabled a formative shift to the tact and formulation of Sino-Israel relations. In developing a Sino-Centric approach, According to Prof Arad & Dr. Propper Israel could form stronger and more productive bonds with critical Chinese partners.

Ephraim HaLevi, the former director of the Mosaad (Israel’s intelligence agency) (Speaking in the Center) brought his expertise to the conversation by emphasizing how Chinese investment is reliant on domestic demand, not the interest of the nation being invested in. Israel’s awareness that growing Chinese investments in its markets will be driven by domestic interests and should be viewed accordingly to maximize value and output in investment. With this caveat, Israel could better understand the aims and expectations of Chinese investment while providing a pragmatic approach to the international demand for its innovative advancements. In his remarks Mr. HaLevi pinpointed an often-misunderstood dynamic in Israel, where the domestic market is to some extent unaware of the influence and impact of the larger international player such as China.

Mr. HaLevi’s perspective in coordination with the viewpoints of Prof. Arad and Dr. Propper provided the basis for what could facilitate a stronger and more dynamic relationship between Israel and China. Through a realist understanding of Chinese economic desires, forming a comprehensive approach to China across history culture economic interaction and political cooperation Israel stands to gain a more dynamic relationship with the Middle Kingdom

The Future of Israel China Relations: Defining and Achieving Israel’s interests

In what proved to be the most lively and fertile panel the third session of the inaugural Israel’s China Policy Conference featured insight of Mark Sofer the Deputy Director General for Asia-Pacific at the Israeli MFA as well as Eran Etzion, Executive Director of the Forum for Strategic dialog. Additional speakers included Australian Amb to Israel Dave Sharma as well as SIGNAL Executive Director Carice Witte. 

In what proved to be the culmination of the day’s discussions the panel touched on a few important points of note for the future and possible expansion of Sino-Israel relations. Chief among these ideas were those presented by Amb. Sofer, who projected cautious optimism at the prospect of closer ties between Israel and China through the fields of counter terrorism and economic policy coordination. In Amb Sofer’s viewpoint, stronger ties can be built through utilizing Israeli strengths, primarily technology and innovation to facilitate Chinese economic and strategic advancement domestically and in international markets. 

In Dr. Etzion’s commentary, the future of the Sino-Israel relationship is dependent on the value Israel provides to China, and how it thus enables China a more stable economic and geostrategic environment globally. If China can effectively harness Israeli security understanding, and strategic perspectives on the broader Middle East, Israel stand to gain increased standing and sway with the impactful voices in China. 

In providing a case study on productive and effective cooperation with China, Amb Dan Sharma detailed how Australia interacts with China to build upon its geostrategic interest while illustrating an astute awareness of Chinese market interests. In his assessment, Amb Sharma highlighted two insightful points which could help guide Israel to more productive Sino-Israel cooperation. First, accommodation of China based on size and economic output is essential if Israel intends to pragmatically interact with the Middle Kingdom. Second, although policy conflict may occur it does not have to interfere with broader cooperation and economic ties. Just as Australia has differing policy aims as China and effectively builds ties across markets and politics, Israel could do the same with careful tact and long term vision.
Expanding upon the various perspectives and innovative ideas presented in the Inaugural Israel’s China Policy Conference, SIGNAL Executive Director, Carice Witte (pictured above) elaborated on how Israel-China relations could holistically grow beyond high tech investment into broad-based diplomatic, scholarly and economic partnerships which benefit all players involved. In her remarks, Ms. Witte addressed the importance of understanding China historically and culturally as well as what interest the Middle East will play in future Chinese investment strategy and its impact on Sino-Israel Relations.