Israel and China’s Silk Road
By: Kevjn Lim

When China’s President Xi Jinping articulated his idea of the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) in Astana in September 2013 and again a month later in Jakarta,1 what emerged was a vision to parlay large-scale economic dynamism into a foreign policy projecting Chinese influence overseas in the name of development. Inclusive and expansive at once, this is an ambitious vision and one which could seal ours as the Chinese century if it succeeds in weaving the loose ends of China’s overseas interests into a coherent whole. Three years into SREB, now better known as the “Belt & Road Initiative” (BRI), a part of the vision is slowly taking on flesh. The volume of media reports attests to this. What remains less clear is the strategic implications and opportunities of BRI on China’s partners. Occupying a slight sliver at the intersection of West Asia and the Middle East, Europe and Africa – regions of intimate relevance to BRI – Israel too has joined the new Silk Road caravan. Where does it fit in, and what difference does BRI make?

  1. “Promote friendship between our people and work together to build a bright future” (text of Xi Jinping’s speech at Nazarbayev University, Astana), Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the PRC, 8 September 2013, http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/ce/cebel/eng/zxxx/t1078088.htm; “Xi in call for building of new ‘Maritime Silk Road’”, China Daily, 4 October 2013, http://usa.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2013-10/04/content_17008940.htm

Seeing China Through the Turkish History Textbooks
By: Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak

Turkey and China, two pivotal states with remarkable imperial legacies and centuries old state traditions, have enjoyed cordial ties since the formation of bilateral relations in 1971. Despite being located in different geographical regions and not sharing borders the impact of China on Turkish history has been significant.

In order to understand the basis of the relations among the countries, it is fruitful to analyze the formation of the Turkish national history narrative and its reflections within Turkish educational textbooks. Such an examination will reveal the view on China and its people in the eyes of ordinary Turkish citizens.

Following the First World War, the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish war of independence (1919-1922), the effort to create a Turkish nation-state led to the formation of a new historical narrative under the newborn Turkish republic. In order to prove that the Turks had a glorious past even before their conversion to Islam (751 CE) and the formation of the Ottoman Empire (1299-1923), the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and the ideological father of Turkish nationalism, historian, Ziya Gökalp, formulated a historical idea that attributed a special importance to pre-Islamic Turkish history. It is this overarching idea which was to be essential in informing the perspective of the early school textbooks of the young republic.

Thus, the Huns, Göktürks and Uygurs, all of whom at some point engaged in bloody campaigns with Chinese dynasties, were mentioned as the most prominent pre-Islamic Turkish groups to have formed strong states. These groups were portrayed as ancestors of the contemporary Turkish citizen. In light of this viewpoint, the Turkish textbooks had also to portray the Chinese as the long standing opponent of these Turkish peoples. It is necessary to underline that the Turkish school textbooks’ position vis-à-vis the Chinese Empire did not change over the years. The history textbooks that were published during the 1990s and those published as recently as 2016 still portray the same basic story as their early Republic antecedents.

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