A joint study led in Israel by SIGNAL and conducted by:
Dr. Li Wei – Research Fellow from the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies (IMES) of China’s Northwest University
Kalman Guyer- E.G.P Applied Economics Ltd. Research and Consulting in Economics, Marketing and Social Sciences
Dale Aluf – Director of Research & Strategy at SIGNAL– Sino Israel Global Network & Academic Leadership
This study examines the Israeli perceptions of and attitudes towards China, its people and the impact of these perceptions and attitudes on their intuitive response to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The responses were intuitive because in most cases, this survey was the first time they had heard of the BRI. This is the first study of its kind. It endeavors to provide a benchmark for future research on this topic.
Data collection was based on surveying two sample groups of Israelis. Sample I, “General Population”, was comprised of 325 Israelis, ages 18+ with fluency in Hebrew. Sample II, “High Educated”, in addition to falling within the constraints of Sample I, the 126 Israelis surveyed held at least a Master’s degree.
Through a comparative analysis of these two data sets, the researches drew insights concerning Israelis’ familiarity with Chinese customs and culture, their assessment of China’s motivations, and their perceptions of and attitudes towards the BRI. Subjects were given a questionnaire with 37 questions. The first, “have you ever visited China?” provided the study with an additional comparative dimension, as it measured the impact of visiting China to Israelis’ overall perception of China and the BRI. 16.4% of the “High Educated” respondents and 11.2% of the general population had visited China.
Regarding the status of Israel and China’s relationship, about 83% of the educated sample think Israel is important to China, while only 53% of the general population feel the same. The reverse question produced similar results, as about 90% of the “High Educated” sample believe that China is important to Israel. Sino-Israel relations were perceived as friendly by 100% of Israelis who had visited China and more than 70% of those who had not. 60% of respondents thought that China plays a positive role in international relations.
This said, there is a large disparity between Israelis’ positive perceptions of China versus their overall awareness about the country. Over half indicated that they had little to no knowledge of China’s role in global politics. Furthermore, while 80% of respondents in both groups had heard of the ancient Silk Road, only 15% of Israelis knew of the BRI’s existence. Additionally, only 7% of Israelis recognized the name Xi Jinping as being the President of China. When asked to associate phrases with China, the most common responses were stereotypical buzzwords: “Giant”, “Superpower”, “Billion People”, “Cheap E-Bay”, “Alibaba”, “Communism”, and “the Red”.”
These statistics indicate a trend: a greater awareness of China, either through visiting the country or a high degree of education, leads to a more positive perception of China overall. Because so few Israelis possess knowledge about China or the BRI, it appears that a campaign to educate the Israeli populace could have a significantly positive impact on Chinese-Israeli cultural connections as a whole. Indeed, further statistics from the study seem to back up this claim: when given general information about the BRI, 65.4% of the “High Educated” sample responded positively, and of those who visited China, 71% were in favor of the BRI. Only a small proportion of the two samples reported that the BRI disturbed or scared them. Most of the other respondents said that they had not made up their mind when given more information on the BRI.
Only a small number of respondents displayed concern regarding the BRI, believing the project to have a hidden political agenda. Nonetheless, these views might become more prominent if accurate and comprehensive information about the BRI is not disseminated effectively. A linear regression analysis revealed that Israeli opinions about China and its people as a whole had no significant impact on Israeli attitudes towards the BRI specifically. As such, a targeted information campaign could ensure that Israelis would be better equipped to make an objective assessment about the BRI. Considering that curiosity about China is high — 90.4% of the educated sample and 80.4% of the general population reported that they would like to know more about the country — such a campaign would most likely be well received by the Israeli populace.
It would be particularly wise for such an initiative to present facts regarding the BRI’s intentions and existing development impact. For those who had not visited the country, 40% believed China to be a danger, 19.3% thought that China would bring about world peace, and 40.4% said China had the potential for both. Opinions could be affected by gaining awareness of President Xi’s statements that the BRI is intended to serve as the economic basis for global peace and cooperation. Also pertinent to perceptions of the BRI would be information related to the upward economic trends for countries that have partnered with China.
This study shows that while Israel knows little about China and the BRI, it is open and receptive to learning more. With its thriving hi-tech sector, first-rate agricultural technology, and security expertise, Israel is in prime position to significantly contribute to the success of China’s BRI initiative. This study indicates that the Israeli populace would generally favor Israeli-Chinese cooperation in this regard. However, survey responses show that a majority of Israelis are unaware that such an opportunity exists. This high level of untapped potential within the context of this relationship can open the door for significant opportunities for both countries. According to the statistics of this study, Israel would welcome pertinent information about the BRI and China that could advance business and build people to people relations that ultimately would be beneficial to both Chinese and Israeli interests.
By Zach Glass,
The full paper can be found here.