Israel signs cooperation plan with Beijing, seeks ‘balance’ on China ties

“The Chinese, like Israelis, aren’t afraid of new ideas,” Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said on the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the countries.

By Sharon Wrobel,  The Algemeiner

Israel and China on Monday signed a three-year agreement to foster cooperation and dialogue, as the two countries marked 30 years of diplomatic relations.

The action plan was signed at the fifth meeting of the China-Israel Joint Committee on Innovation Cooperation, along with a series of professional bilateral agreements, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said. Established in 2014, the committee last convened in Jerusalem back in 2018.

“The Chinese, like Israelis, aren’t afraid of new ideas. There’s a built-in curiosity in the character of our two peoples,” Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said. “Give us a new and exciting idea, and we’ll gather around it, enthusiastically discuss it, and immediately examine its origin and how it can be improved.”

The agreement was signed by Lapid and Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan during the virtual committee meeting.

Israeli Ministers of Innovation, Science, & Technology and Energy, as well as senior officials from the Ministries of Economy, Agriculture, Environmental Protection, Health, and Culture, the Innovation Authority, and the Israel Patent Office, were also present.

“We know very little about the agreements signed in the committee today, but its importance this year is also symbolic,” Galia Lavi, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), told The Algemeiner.

“Looking at the seniority of the representatives at the committee from Israel and China, it seems that both sides are making it clear that they are interested in continuing their relationship.”

Israel’s efforts to bolster ties with China come as its closest ally, the US,  has in recent years raised concerns about the country’s cooperation with Beijing — including on key strategic infrastructure projects — out of fear that Beijing could gain access to proprietary technology and present security risks.

Lavi remarked that Israel does take US concerns into account, but that does not mean “breaking all ties with China.”

“Israel does not have military ties with China, but on the economic front, China is an important economic partner to both Israel and the US,” Lavi said. “Israel is willing to learn from the US how it conducts its own ties with China while finding the right balance between the opportunities and the risks.”

‘Win-win cooperation’

Over the past three decades of diplomatic relations between Israel and China, the volume of trade between the two countries has increased to about $18 billion, turning Beijing into one of Israel’s most important trading partners, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

Lapid noted that the innovation committee is a technological venture but also serves as a forum for government-to-government cooperation, bringing together 15 ministries and agencies from both Israel and China with a focus on economic ties.

To mark the 30-year milestone, Israeli and Chinese presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministries also exchanged greeting messages.

“I am convinced that Israel-China cooperation will continue to deepen in the future to create more benefits for the two peoples,” said Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, marking the 30-year milestone.

The Foreign Ministry described the “strong connection” between China and the Jewish people as “ancient,” starting with the Jewish community in Kaifeng about a thousand years ago to Jewish communities in Harbin, Tianjin, and Shanghai, where Jews who fled Nazi rule in World War II found refuge.

China’s Premier Li Keqiang said the two countries have in recent years been engaged in “fruitful innovation cooperation and achieved win-win outcomes.”

“China is willing to work with Israel to uphold the spirit of win-win cooperation, enhance political mutual trust, further enhance the level of pragmatic cooperation between the two countries in various fields, and promote greater development of China-Israel relations,” according to a readout from China’s foreign ministry.