As the Chinese government becomes increasingly eager to rehabilitate polluted aquifers and provide clean, efficient resources to an ever-expanding middle class, Israeli water sector entrepreneurs may have found the ideal global gateway for their groundbreaking technologies.
A delegation of Chinese government and water industry leaders gathered on Tuesday with their Israeli counterparts at the biennial Tel Aviv WATEC event, the 8th International Exhibition and the 5th International Conference on Water Technologies and Environmental Control.
At a session devoted primarily to the forthcoming Chinese-Israeli Shouguang “Water City,” the experts discussed how the partners might together achieve their ideal “innovation playground.”
“Israel is really famous for its technology and when it comes to wastewater treatment and water-related technology,” said Song Zhihu, deputy mayor of Shouguang. “It is really important to us to work together with Israel to build this new type of city in China.”
During his term as economy minister, Education Minister Naftali Bennett launched the future Shouguang Water City with the municipality’s leadership, while visiting the region in November 2014. Chinese officials followed up with a visit to Israel this March, to explore some of the water innovation available in Israel.
Chosen jointly by Israeli and Chinese government officials, Shouguang is slated to become the host city in China for the commercial-scale implementation of Israeli water technologies, providing the municipality with sorely needed innovation in fields such as desalination, sewage treatment and irrigation, the Economy Ministry said at the time. From the Israeli perspective, meanwhile, the hope is that the model will be replicable and will persuade Chinese national authorities to adopt such solutions in other cities.
Shouguang is located in the Shandong province, adjacent to the East China Sea’s Laizhou Bay, about 500 km. southeast of Beijing and 800 km. north of Shanghai.
“In recent years, the city of Shouguang has developed in all ranks of industry,” Song said. “Agriculture-wise, we are called the hometown of vegetables.”
In Song’s eyes, Shouguang is the perfect choice to host a wide range of Israeli water technologies. With a population of about 1 million, the city’s dense structure and water supply shortage is a microcosm for greater China, he explained.
“Our strong will and capability has helped us to be chosen,” he said.
Wu Wensheng, vice president of the Great Wall Enterprise Institute, who is serving as a consultant on the project, agreed that Shouguang is the ideal location for the project, as a city that “has come to everyone’s eye.” Nonetheless, he stressed that the Israeli innovations brought into the city must be tightly connected to the municipality’s specific needs.
“We need to bring in all the high-end sophisticated technology,” Wu said. “We need to translate those technologies into a language that Shouguang people can understand, and use this as a pilot to help future companies in Israel to similarly connect with Chinese companies.”
In doing so, Shouguang can become “an example,” or a pilot for other areas across China, he added.
As the plans for the city move forward, Wu also emphasized the importance of pursuing broad cooperation rather than simply targeting the technologies of a few select firms.
“We more and more have come to an understanding that we need to have a more platform- like cooperation,” Wu said. “We cannot just cooperate with one or two companies.
We need to have a turnkey project to have a whole comprehensive solution.”
Adi Yefet, the water promotion program director at the Economy Ministry, echoed Wu’s thoughts, stressing the importance of strengthening the relationship between the two countries. Like Wu, she highlighted the need to choose the right companies and technologies for the project, to match the unique characteristics of Shouguang.
“We have to do it very closely to the city’s needs,” she said.
“We want to be very, very specific.”
Soon, together with the Great Wall Enterprise Institute, the Economy Ministry will publish a report regarding these needs, in order to help interested Israeli firms to determine their eligibility, Yefet explained. In addition, another Israeli delegation will soon visit the city, and a tender will be issued to gather company proposals for participation, she added.
The ministry’s aim is to help companies enter the Chinese market by removing the barriers often preventing such a move, according to Yefet.
“We don’t have these size cities in Israel,” she said. “So for Israeli companies, this is a great opportunity – first, to do business with big companies in China, and second, to do such major, large-scale projects in a very big city. Then we can copy this model.”
The model could be replicated not only in cities throughout China but also in other countries, such as India, Yefet explained.
“There are a lot of big cities around the world,” she said.
Although the Shouguang Water City is the first such Israeli- Chinese government-to-government project in the sector, collaboration between the two countries in the water industry has long been taking place on a business level. For example, since 2013, the Dowell Technological and Environmental Engineering Co. has been constructing a Sino-Israeli Water Treatment Innovative Industrial Park to be based in the city of Dongguan.
The park, which aims to attract Israeli companies to develop their technologies on site, was planned in the background of economic agreements signed between Israel and the Guangdong province in 2011. Dongguan is located on the Pearl River Delta in the central Guangdong province, which borders the South China Sea, about 2,000 km. south of Shouguang.
Pan Huageng, founder and chairman of both the park and Dowell Technological and Environmental Engineering Co., told conference participants on Tuesday that everything is moving according to plan. The company’s intention, he explained, is to build strategic partnerships with 20 large-scale environmental infrastructural firms in China, increasing that number to 50-60 by 2016 and 80-90 by 2017, Pan said.
“We’re very clear that Chinese domestic water treatment technology lags behind the project requirements,” Pan said.
“China has carried a lot of baggage because we sacrificed our environment in order to support industrial development.”
Construction of the park – also known as the International Water Valley – is slated to be complete by 2016, according to the project’s website, but it remained unclear how many Israeli firms have confirmed their participation.
“We are going to leverage a lot of benefit for the companies when it comes to the point that they need to penetrate the Chinese market,” Pan said. “We want to make our platform a very influential one, to help foreign companies with good technologies to come to our industrial park and, in the future, to help them penetrate China’s market.”
As progress continues to move forward with joint Chinese-Israeli projects in the water sector, Ophir Gore, head of the trade mission at the Israeli Embassy in Beijing, stressed the dual importance of overcoming China’s many water challenges as well as promoting Israeli innovation in the process. In doing so, collaborations will be able to “demonstrate in practice the contribution of Israeli water technologies in the Chinese context,” he said.
As far as the government- to-government Shouguang Water City is concerned, the city’s deputy mayor, Song, expressed his confidence that the project would be successful.
“We’re willing to finish the task, and to provide Shouguang residents with a better quality of life,” Song said. “We are very willing to open our door, to welcome new technologies. We have a good foundation and we are very happy to be chosen.”
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