Israel and China will on Tuesday mark the 20th anniversary of establishing
diplomatic relations. There’s a lot to celebrate, not least the robust trade
ties and frequent academic and civilian exchanges. Yet the two countries
have barely scratched the surface in terms of the potential for bilateral ties.
The direction for Israel in the 21st century is clear – eastward, as the two
countries are a natural fit.
The benefits for Israel from closer
relations with China are seemingly obvious. With a population of less
than 8 million, Israel has no domestic market to speak of. China, on the
other hand, not only is the home to the world’s largest population but also a
huge and growing middle class. Analysts expect continuing urbanization to keep
adding potential consumers for anything from mobile phones to notebook computers
(and Israel designs telecom billing systems and chips for those) and to increase
the pressure on already limited land, water, and energy resources.
also has a lot to offer China. Sustainable development is one area where China
can benefit from stronger ties with Israel. Israel used to be mostly desert, and
until recently lacked any oil or gas resources.
So Israelis had to rely
on the only thing they had – their brains and innovation – to build the country.
Thus came desalination, drip irrigation and water recycling to solve the
shortage of water, solar and thermal energy for electricity. Two-thirds arid
Israel recycles about 75 percent of its water and according government plans by
2014 will supply most of its water needs using desalination and even export
water. Moreover, if Better Place gets its way to wean the world off of oil, the
global car fleet may yet switch to electricity.
positions it as the natural partner for China. Less than 10% of China’s land is
arable and China is suffering from ever more severe droughts. China has done
wonders in three decades of reforms that have lifted millions out of poverty and
transformed the country into a manufacturing powerhouse and the world’s
second-largest economy. Yet the same reforms have put immense pressure on natural
resources. Rapid industrialization led to severe air pollution and
millions of people have no access to clean water.
Israel, the “start-up
nation,” and China, the world’s factory, can work together to build desalination
plants, help ensure water supply for farmers, harness the power of the sun and
clean the air, among other areas of cooperation.
Still, there’s much more
to Israel-China relations than just trade. Israel remembers how in the darkest
hour for Jews, when the world closed its doors on Jewish plight, China became
the haven for thousands of Jews escaping Europe. Shanghai alone welcomed nearly
20,000 Jews from Europe thanks in part to Chinese diplomat He Fengshan extending
visas to Jews. In fact, China is one of the few places in the world where Jews
were never persecuted and several Jewish communities existed in China since at
least the 12th century.
On all levels Israel is seeking greater
interaction with China. The Israeli government plans to allocate at least NIS
110 million to raise the number of scholarships it provides to Chinese students
for all degrees from several dozens to 250 starting this year. These students
will not only enjoy first-class education at reasonable prices but will also
become another bridge between the two countries.
The growing numbers of
Jewish and Israeli nonprofits that are engaging China also attest to the
importance Israel attaches to China. For example, The Israel Project, a
nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that provides information about Israel
to the media and policymakers, launched a China program in 2011. We have a
website about Israel in Chinese and we’re regularly communicating in Chinese
with journalists using newsletters, media tours and social
Bilateral merchandise trade has reached a record high of $7.5
billion in the January- November period of 2011, surpassing the $6.8b. recorded
for the full year of 2010. Looking toward the next 20 years, let us hope
that cooperation will continue expanding across a range of fields including
science and technology, trade and tourism, and that the two countries can take
the relationship to another level. Jews and Chinese – it’s a winning
The writer is director for China affairs at The Israel Project, an
international organization that gets facts about Israel and the Middle East to
the press, policy-makers and public.
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