Born just over a year apart, the modern states of the People’s Republic of China and Israel both started as poor desert nations. Partly because both lacked water resources, they began as agrarian societies. However, over the years they developed to become among the world’s leading industrial-technological societies. Both came into being in a hostile environment and had to fight to protect their newly won independence.
Although formal relations were established in 1992, interactions remained relatively limited until recent years. The sharp growth occurred when both Israel and China reached a certain level of economic success – China through manufacturing and Israel through innovation. In 2010, China’s leadership officially announced its intention to transform the Middle Kingdom from a manufacturing driven economy to one led by high tech and innovation. Meanwhile, Israel noted that the fallout of the 2008 world economic meltdown did not impact China any more than it affected Israel; both remained strong growing economies. Israel began to eye China’s market potential while China began to covet Israel’s innovation expertise. Since 2010 when China became the world’s second largest economy by certain measures, relations between it and Israel have grown significantly.
As in each of the past few years, the fruits of consistently growing relations were reaped in 2015 when cooperation deepened in all areas including trade, political ties, intelligence sharing, technological exchanges, academic ties, cultural relations, expanding tourism, and joint science projects, health care etc. Both countries, situated on opposite ends of the Asian continent, have put the lions’ share of resources and effort in advancing relations into mutual economic gain. While Israel seeks to expand exports to China, Chinese leaders and businesspeople aim to acquire from Israel the technology and innovative ideas they need in such fields as agriculture, irrigation, regional planning, desertification, counter terror and education etc.
Expansion of ties with China is a central part of Israel’s policy of pivoting to Asia. So too, this pivot extends to developing economic relations with Vietnam, South Korea, the Philippines and intensifying these ties with India, Indonesia, Singapore, China and recently to a growing degree with Japan. Israel sees the political consequences of strengthening economic ties to lead to increasing sales to China by approx.17% of Israel’s overall trade. This would minimize the political impact of Europe’s policy of interference in Israel’s domestic policy. While for China, with innovation serving a significant role in the new engine of its economy, ramping up its access to technology and innovation from Israel can strengthen China’s economic stability. In both cases, the symbiotic relationship between the Jewish State and the world’s most populated nation supports mutual stability.
During 2015, Israel closely followed the signs that China intends to be more assertive in its Middle East policy and understood this is partly because it interprets the United States’ policy of withdrawal from the Middle East as one that could open new doors for China while perhaps bringing new responsibilities as well. The following survey will focus on some key issues in Sino-Israel relations during 2015.
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