Increased Academic and Political Cooperation Between Israel & China

As we saw from the prior SIGNAL Note, it is well known that Israel’s water expertise can be of significant value to China and it is becoming understood that this water expertise can also contribute to bilateral and multilateral cooperation under the auspices of the Belt & Road initiative. It is also a known fact that China’s business ties with Israel grew significantly in 2015 and are continuing to strengthen. What may be less commonly known is the other, many areas where Israel and China have begun cooperating that can be of medium to long term value to the Belt & Road projects and programs.

Events in Israel that began in Jerusalem on March 29, 2016 give some insight into the breadth of cooperation opportunities now being pursued by the two countries. One main event was of academic orientation. SIGNAL was privileged to attend the signing celebration hosted by Israel’s Council on Higher Education and witness the slew of signing ceremonies. These agreements, signed between Israeli and Chinese academic institutions provide some insight into the fields of cooperation that are forming between the Middle Kingdom and the Jewish State. And many of them will serve as a valuable contribution to the success of the Belt & Road initiative.

Honored guests at the event were Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong, and Israeli Minister of Education Naftali Bennett. As one of China’s four vice premiers and the highest ranking woman in China, Liu Yandong’s support of academic interchange provides impetus to the expanded ties. Both Vice PM Liu and Minister Bennett presided over the establishment of a China-Israel academic alumni association as well as numerous agreements in the fields of technology innovation, education and research. For example, 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. Also, 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.

Professor Qiu Yong, President of Tsinghua University signed on behalf of the university 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. Peking University signed agreements with Tel Aviv University to establish a Food Safety Center. Peking University and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem signed an MOU to promote direct academic exchange. 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. 

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. In this case the expertise of the two universities in the area of Jewish Studies is significant. The leading program in China in the area of Jewish Philosophy is based at Shandong University and headed by the esteemed scholar, Prof. Fu Youde Center For Judaic and Inter-Religious Studies of Shandong University. Bar Ilan University is known worldwide for having the strongest Jewish Studies program in Israel and by some standards in the world. The combination of China’s unique understanding of Jewish Philosophy at Shandong University and the breadth and depth of Jewish Studies at Bar Ilan could facilitate a collaboration between these universities with the potential for important developments in research and study in the field of Judaism in both countries.

Additional 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. 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.

At the event in Jerusalem, the head of Israel’s Council for Higher Education announced that Israel aims to raise the number of Chinese students studying in Israel from the current figure of some 800 to 3,000 within five years.

The multitude of academic cooperation agreements finalized in early April could lead to important developments in the mid and long term in areas of advanced technological breakthroughs and cutting edge innovation. They also serve as a foundation for transfer of educational expertise. Such training will prepare a new generation of students for the challenges of entrepreneurship. This will better prepare China’s youth to contribute in meaningful ways to the Belt & Road not only in research and development. By cultivating such expertise, even more of today’s youth will be ready to create and build their own companies or bring their area of specialty to benefit China’s government, health care system, private enterprise, State Owned Enterprises and all other sectors of Chinese society.

While this academic event was taking place in Jerusalem, another important signing event happened in the North of Israel. The Galilee International Management Institute (GIMI) signed a five-year cooperation agreement with the Chinese government to deepen cooperation in the field of agriculture. While China has purchased a good deal of agricultural hardware over the past 4 decades, there was less interest in understanding the approach, philosophy and thinking behind the agricultural products and innovations. This sometimes resulted in less than successful implementation of the hardware for agricultural solutions. This situation is now changing. 

As China has internalized the leadership’s encouragement to cultivate skills in innovation, there is more emphasis on gaining ‘understanding’. A practical manifestation of this is the new agreement with the Galilee public training institute. This institute currently provides advanced seminars to professionals from over 170 countries. This training promotes cooperation on global and regional levels and can provide not only true expertise to the Chinese who participate. It can also serve as another model for Belt & Road bilateral and multilateral cooperation. Such training programs can become models, in and of themselves, of projects that bring essential knowledge to societies along the new Silk Road. Such knowledge sharing and accrued expertise can also lay the foundations for small, medium and large infrastructure and projects related to agriculture and water distribution.

Over the last 10 years, the GIMI has trained more than 900 Chinese officials.Zhang Jianguo, Vice Minister of Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security in Beijing headed the delegation of Chinese government officials to GIMI in the Galilee (Northern Israel) to sign a series of agreements at the same time as Vice Premier Liu Yandong was in Jerusalem (Central-Eastern Israel). Zhang is the administrator of the China Association for International Exchange of Personnel (CAIEP) branch of the Chinese government that is responsible sending senior government officials overseas for advanced studies. Under the auspices of this 5 year agreement GIMI will train approximately 130 Chinese, mainly in the fields of agriculture, water management and technological innovation.

Also during this eventful trip to Israel, Premier Liu Yandong met with Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Both leaders co-hosted the 2nd meeting of the China-Israel Joint Committee for Innovation Cooperation (JCIC).The Vice Premier arrived in Israel with an 80-person strong delegation from China to take part in the second annual meeting of the Israel-China Committee for Cooperation in Innovation. The JCIC was established in 2014 to serve as an important platform for Government to Government interaction between Israel and China. At the formation of the JCIC, a Three-Year Action Plan was signed by Vice Premier Liu Yandong and former Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman.The 1st Meeting of the JCIC took place in Beijing in January 2015。

Whereas Egypt has a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with China and Turkey and Saudi Arabia have Strategic Partnerships with China, the Partnership between China and Israel focuses on Innovation. It calls for the promotion of innovation cooperation in various fields of particular value to China such as healthcare, education, agriculture, science and technology. In addition to being of value to China, all of these areas of innovation can contribute to the success of the Belt & Road in a variety of ways.One possibility is to establish public-private collaborations where local municipalities inside and outside China work with private sector companies and NGOs to establish training centers along the land belt.

Because the JCIC encompasses ministries and government agencies from the China and Israel as well as leading universities and research institutions(some of which are listed above) the Committee itself has the components needed to begin planning Belt & Road support projects. Since the JCIC is co-chaired by Israel’s Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Benjamin Netanyahu and China’s Vice Premier Madam Liu Yandong, it has the weight and significance to take such projects forward. Vice Premier Liu commented that “Over the next five years, Beijing aims to strengthen transportation infrastructure, telecommunications and nuclear technology. Our hope is that more Israeli entrepreneurs will undertake projects in China.”

The leaders indicated the potential of the JCIC when during her visit, Vice Premier Liu revealed that China and Israel formally agreed to enter negotiations over the establishment of a free-trade agreement. “China is Israel’s third-largest trading partner and I believe there is great potential,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, standing next to Liu at the launch of the committee meeting in the Foreign Ministry’s headquarters in Jerusalem. Israel’s Prime Minister added that “China agreeing to start negotiations over a free-trade agreement is a significant statement and we’re ready to start immediately.”

Another important announcement at the JCIC concerned a significant step in facilitating not only business ties but people to people interaction and communication between the Middle Kingdom and the Jewish State. The leaders proclaimed that China will now offer 10-year multiple entry visas to Israelis. Until now, China has had this agreement only with the US and with Canada. As such, the 10year multi-entry visa agreement that was signed last week indicates the kind of relationship China seeks Israel. It is expected that soon the parallel visa agreement will be signed for Chinese coming to Israel. The growing academic, research and technological ties between the nations in tandem with China’s commitment to cultivating a culture of innovation offers endless opportunities for these two ancient peoples to work together for the betterment of their societies and those of the wider world.