SIGNAL Note 25

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.

Understanding How Culture and History Impact China’s International Relations: The Case of the South China Sea

Is China an up-and-coming aggressor determined to govern the global order? That seems to be the conventional view among some Western pundits and politicians. From snubbing former U.S. President Obama upon his arrival at last year’s G20 summit, to not participating in the arbitration of the South China Sea territorial dispute, China appears intent on throwing its weight around as it rises to prominence on the international stage.

While it’s true that the People’s Republic of China jealously protects its national interests, the conventional view is problematic because it lacks the broad historical-cultural perspective that is necessary for evaluating Chinese behavior. As Israel continues to strengthen its connection to the Middle Kingdom, it’s important that Israel’s leaders know how to assess Chinese behavior independently of the Western conventional wisdom. The 2016 South China Sea ruling is helpful for illustrating what the Western perspective misses.

In July, 2016, an international tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled against Chinese claims to “historic rights” in the South China Sea and in favor of the Philippines. After the decision, The Economist articulated the conventional wisdom as follows, “The judgment could… in the long run, force China to choose what sort of country it wants to be—one that supports rules-based global regimes, or one that challenges them in pursuit of great-power status.”

The problem with this formulation is that it projects a Western cultural perspective onto the Chinese. From the Chinese perspective there is no black and white dichotomy, either this or that. For the Chinese, things can be grey, complicated and in many cases contradictory. What’s more, living with contradictions is completely acceptable.

This Chinese capacity to live without absolute clarity or decisive solutions, the product of a long history that has chastened any ambition to master reality, likewise informs Chinese foreign policy. Instead of either supporting a rules-based global regime or challenging it, the Chinese are intent on protecting their “historic rights” and, as such, their domestic stability and security, while learning on the fly how to adapt to the international system. However, the legalistic approach adopted by the international community in resolving the South China Sea dispute not only failed to actually solve the problem ─ the approach didn’t change anything on the ground ─ it is liable, in conditions of extremity, to destabilize the country.

Security topics on Israel and the Middle East

Since the first Jewish immigrants began returning to their rightful homeland, even before the declaration of an independent State of Israel, they have faced violent opposition from their Arab neighbors.

Israel is completely unique not merely as the world’s only Jewish state, but as the only democratic, non-Muslim country in the Middle East, whose population differs from its neighbors in culture and language. The Muslim states recognize that Israel’s government, economy, advancements and integration in the global community set it apart regionally, and this fuels their feelings of animosity towards Israel.

As such, the Jewish State draws on a number of cultural and historical values to ensure its survival. It continues to overcome numerous geographic, political and socio-economic asymmetrical disadvantages when compared to its Arab neighbors. Israel understands that it is alone when it comes to self-defense and cannot rely on external actors to assure its security. Thus, Israel has taken decisive measures to become independently responsible for its own survival. Israel does this by developing strong human capital, military and defense industries, and by building close relationships with global powers and the Jewish diaspora.

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