Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced on Sunday he will travel to China next Sunday, in the first prime ministerial trip there since Ehud Olmert visited in 2007.

Netanyahu is scheduled to meet the top Chinese leadership during a five-day trip that will take him to Shanghai, the country’s commercial capital, and Beijing.

While diplomatic issues such as Iran and Syria will undoubtedly come up in the talks, the focus – according to diplomatic officials – will be on bilateral and economic issues.

Israel and China, which only established diplomatic ties in 1992, do some $10 billion worth of trade a year, a sum that Israeli officials believe can be significantly increased.

Netanyahu has consistently placed an emphasis on strengthening the relationship with Beijing, and during a cabinet meeting last year where he called on his ministers to curb their travel abroad because of the economic situation, said that the one exception was China, where he urged the ministers to visit as much as possible to cement the relationship.

In Netanyahu’s view, one official said, Israel’s hi-tech capabilities and innovation, and China’s production capacity, was a “winning combination.”

Last year, in a speech on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of diplomatic ties, Netanyahu said the two countries had “barely scratched the surface” of the potential of Israeli-Sino ties. During that speech he talked of a “doubling of trade.”

One of the economic issues on the agenda will be plans to build a railroad from Ashdod Port to Eilat, which could serve both as way for the Chinese to ship goods to Europe without having to go through the Suez Canal, and as a possible conduit for Israeli natural gas to China.

Regarding Iran, one official would not respond when asked whether the prime minister would present the Chinese with any new intelligence information.

“He will be talking about the dangers of Iran proceeding on its current course,” the official said, and how a nuclear Iran would lead to an increase in regional instability, something that would harm countries – such as China – that were dependent on the region for oil.

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