SHANGHAI – Seventy years ago the Jewish people could not protect itself and had to plead for others to “save them.” Today that is no longer the case, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Tuesday, just days after allegations that Israeli war planes attacked weapons depots near Damascus.
Netanyahu’s comments came during a tour of the Jewish Refugees Museum in Shanghai, located in the heart of the Honkgou District where some 18,000 Jews found refuge during World War II.
The fate of the Jews has changed a great deal since the time the refugees found shelter in this city, the prime minister said.
“Seventy years ago we could only plead, only beg to be saved. Today we have a state of our own, an army of our own. We need not beg to be saved, we can defend ourselves,” he added.
Netanyahu, who dedicated the reopening of a coffee shop at the site that once served the Jewish population of the quarter, said the historic compound – which includes a small Holocaust museum and a reconstructed synagogue that is now a museum – commemorated “the great kindness of the people of Shanghai, and this quarter, for our people. And we shall never forget it.”
The prime minister praised Chinese “exceptionalism” in opening their gates to Jews when nearly all other countries in the world slammed their doors shut.
Netanyahu, who spent the bulk of the first two of a five-day visit to China focusing on opening the country to Israeli companies, said that as the two countries “seize a common future” together, “we will remember our past: our ancient past and our recent past, when you showed us such kindness.”
After being entertained by a four-man Chinese dance troupe performing a traditional dragon folk dance, Netanyahu met Xang Xion, Shanghai’s mayor.
He said then that not only was “China one of the few countries not afflicted by anti-Semitism, but actually by its opposite: philo-Semitism.”
From there Netanyahu traveled nearly 30 minutes to the second largest pharmaceutical company in China, Shanghai Pharma. He watched patiently as a 10-minute video presentation of the firm was screened, and then held a nearly hourlong discussion with the heads of the gigantic company that employs 40,000 people and earned $10 billion last year. The prime minister also donned a white cloak and blue coverings for his shoes to take a brief tour of the factory.
Zhoa Jia, the chairman of the firm, told Netanyahu he was looking both for research and development cooperation with Israeli firms, as well as for investment opportunities in Israel. He said he was looking for help from the Israeli government and industry.
Netanyahu pledged the government’s support and assistance for cooperation. In order to stay ahead, Netanyahu told Zhoa, Chinese firms needed innovation, the kind of hi-tech innovation that Israel could supply.
“There is a gold mine of innovation” in Israel, he said, someone just needs to “go into the mine... I offer my help, let’s make the marriage.”
Following two days of talks in Shanghai, where Netanyahu’s energies were channeled to drumming up business for Israeli firms, he is scheduled to travel to Beijing Wednesday for two more days of talks that will focus as much on regional and diplomatic issues, as on economic ones.
On Wednesday he is scheduled to meet China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang, followed by a meeting Thursday with President Xi Jinping.
Beijing’s unexpected announcement Monday, following a meeting between Jinping and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, of a four-point peace plan is expected to come up in the talks, as is Beijing’s criticism Monday of Israel’s alleged action in Syria.