Flag of China.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
It seems far-fetched, fantastical, but is there a chance that tiny Israel could become a linchpin of giant China’s global trade strategy? Capt. Yigal Maor, director general of the Transportation Ministry’s Administration of Shipping and Ports, thinks it could be, and envisions a future in which China helps push Israel’s Arab neighbors toward peace in pursuit of that dream.
Speaking at to the inaugural SIGNAL conference on Israel’s China policy at the IDC in Herzliya Thursday, Maor laid out a vision of how Israel could be an integral part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, its plan to help build trade infrastructure to bolster its global supply lines.
As an alternative to shipping through the crowded Suez Canal, he posited, China could see value in sending goods into the Persian Gulf, and shipping them overland to the Mediterranean via several lines that could cross through Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar or southern Iraq before finally continuing through Jordan and Israel.
“I think that China can get a lot of opportunities in that area through infrastructure,” he said.
If China invests in building those paths, which he dubbed IGEC – the Israel Gulf Economic Corridor – it could push Gulf countries into more formal ties with Israel.
“Maybe with the help of China there will be peace in that area,” he said.
China just wants to do business, he continued, not deal with politics. That approach, he argued, alongside a healthy infrastructure investment in the region, might actually create good conditions for cooperation.
In some regards, the ever-closer relationship between Israel and China bodes well for such a future.
“It’s only a matter of time before China will be part of the Middle East,” said Matan Vilna’i, ambassador to China, at the conference.
The two countries, he noted, were growing ever closer through trade, working on a freetrade deal, and making it easier for educational and cultural exchanges between the two countries.
China’s Ambassador Zhan Yongxin, speaking ahead of Vilna’i at the same conference, struck similar notes of hope for increasing trade ties.
But, as Maor admitted, his vision may be a fantasy, an elusive goal that cannot be achieved.
Dorian Barak, the managing partner at Indigo Global, noted that China might be interested in such an arrangement, but tends to avoid infrastructure projects that traverse multiple countries.
“I think part of it is fantasy and vision, and part of it is practical,” he said of Maor’s plan.
But perhaps it’s less fantastical than all that.
Since 2013, Turkey has been using Israel as a workaround for shipping goods to the Persian Gulf after the ferocity of Syria’s civil war made its normal trade route impossible. Instead, it ships its goods to the Haifa port and then trucks them through Israel and Jordan.
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