China and Israel – A Quarter of a Century of Friendship
By: Professor Meron Medzini, Distinguished SIGNAL Fellow

On 4 January 2017 The People’s Republic of China and the State of Israel will mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. This event can be safely described as one of Israel’s major strategic foreign policy achievements. After decades of alienation and at times open hostility on the part of China, both countries have since become close trading partners, and there have been many displays of growing sympathy between the two nations: China, the largest in the world whose population accounts for 28% of the global population, and tiny Israel, whose population is 0.0013% of the world’s population. Today there is significant cooperation in many fields between the two nations, based partly on China’s awareness bordering on admiration for Israel’s hi-tech sector. China also appreciates Israel’s military capabilities, its intelligence gathering talents, its advanced technologies. China has become Israel’s major trading partner in Asia. The volume of Sino-Israel trade that amounted to $50 million in 1992, jumped 200 times to $13 billion in 2016. Chinese investments in Israel in 2016 amounted to over $6 billion, far exceeding American investments in the Jewish state.

What are the main reasons that explain this amazing development in the foreign policy of both nations? Although Israel was one of the first non-Communist states to recognize the People’s Republic of China as early as January 1950, its efforts to establish ties with that power were rebuffed. From 1955 to 1978 China pursued an anti-Israel, pro-Arab policy. China’s growing need for oil, UN votes and trade led Beijing to seek closer ties with the Arab and Muslim nations, and by implication to an anti-Israel stand in the United Nations and other international forums. This changed in 1978 when China required an upgrading of its ancient Soviet weaponry, mostly tanks. It then discovered Israel’s advanced military technologies. The timing was also critical – it paralleled Deng Xiao Ping’s dramatic reforms in all sectors. China now required modern technologies in the spheres of agriculture, irrigation, chemicals and fertilizers, weapons. This was also the time when Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty and Israel was no longer isolated internationally or regionally.

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SIGNAL Perspectives are written by experts on a range of issues within the China-Israel-Middle East space