China Israel flags.
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
This week, China announced plans for a “Four-Point Peace Plan” between Israel and the Palestinians. China’s recent interest in the conflict has raised many eyebrows, and begs the question of what the real reason is behind the eastern behemoth’s desire to throw its hat in the ring.
China’s main concern with the region relates to its flagship “One Belt, One Road” plan. The initiative seeks to establish trade routes based on the Silk Road route and Maritime Silk Road, and thus allow more efficient export for Chinese production while increasing the country’s involvement in global affairs. It has invested billions in infrastructure, including a massive new train route reaching from Beijing to London.
This initiative offers many challenges and opportunities to both Israel and China, as well as possible rewards to Israel if the country takes the right courses of action.
Firstly, the One Belt, One Road policy’s main goal is to export from China westward, mostly toward European markets. Israel’s position between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean allows China to bypass the unstable Middle East, as well as Iran and Afghanistan. Ashdod Port, soon to be expanded by a second port operated by the Chinese firm China Harbor, must be connected to Eilat Port by freight rail as a matter of urgency.
Only 252 kilometers separate Ashdod and Eilat, and now is the time to bridge that gap through massive investment in infrastructure. This will allow a safe, swift connection between the Indian Ocean (through the Red Sea) and the Mediterranean, while at the same time serving as an alternative to the Suez Canal.
Second, compared to its neighbors Israel is uniquely poised to connect East and West as part of the Silk Road policy. As the only stable democracy in the region, Israel suffers none of the troubles afflicting the Middle East since the “Arab Spring,” and also enjoys a technologically advanced society and plenty of unused land in the Negev. The government must use these gifts to establish logistics centers for firms moving goods along the Silk Road, which together with the improved infrastructure will create new opportunities for the residents of southern Israel.
With impeccable timing, the newfound gas reserves off the Israeli coast offer an opportunity for something Israel has not seen in years, at least in significant amounts – production. Proximity to both energy reserves and European markets as well as access to both the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean will allow production and transport at much lower cost than previously thought possible in the region.
Lastly, Israel must understand and navigate the geopolitical realities that the One Belt, One Road policy creates. If Israel positions itself to become a leader in regional logistics, it will offer an alternative to its neighbors such as Egypt or Turkey and thus negatively impact their role in global affairs while strengthening Israel’s importance in the region. Though China will, of course, never be the friend to Israel that the US has been, involvement in the Silk Road will allow strengthening ties with the world’s soon-to-be largest economy.
Also, this policy is based on the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), an initiative that has not been well received in the US, to the extent that Japan refrained from joining so as not to upset Washington. Israel, however, did join the AIIB, and must be careful not to conduct its business with China at the expense of the US or its relationship with Washington.
These steps will allow Israel to enjoy the benefits of the new global connection that China wishes to establish. Historically, the land of Israel has been a strategic link between Asia, Europe and Africa, and now is the time to revive that role.The author is the an Israel-Asia entrepreneur. He is the public affairs director for StandWithUs and an Israel-Asia Center Leaders fellow. @giladkabilo