Democratic lawmakers 'very concerned' with Chinese projects in Israel

China's role in Israel is now a bipartisan concern.

January 31, 2019 20:05
2 minute read.
Democratic lawmakers 'very concerned' with Chinese projects in Israel

Vice President of the People's Republic of China Wang Qisham [L] and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [R]. (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)


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WASHINGTON – Democrats are joining Republicans in sounding the alarm about China’s creeping role over Israel’s critical infrastructure.

Senior staff on the House Foreign Affairs Committee – newly run by Democrats and led by Congressman Eliot Engel of New York, co-chair of the Congressional Israel Allies Caucus – have told The Jerusalem Post that its members are “very concerned” with China’s initiatives in Israel, which include the takeover of Haifa’s civilian port in 2021 by the Shanghai International Port Group.

“The issue of third-country foreign ownership of the critical infrastructure of some of our close allies, like Israel, is very concerning to members of Congress,” committee staff told the Post. “We believe that there is much work to be done here to ensure US security priorities and those of our allies.”

In the last two months, top Treasury and national security officials in the Trump administration warned their Israeli counterparts that Chinese technology and port companies working in Israel could pose a threat to long-term intelligence and security cooperation between the historic allies. And the Sixth Fleet of the US Navy suggested it might reconsider its operations in Haifa ahead of China’s arrival.

Israeli officials have acknowledged these bipartisan concerns and are completing work on an interagency mechanism that would vet future infrastructure project partnerships with third parties, such as China or Chinese-owned companies. Transportation Minister Israel Katz, who first approved the Haifa Port agreement with China’s Shanghai International Port Group in 2013, told the Post last month that Israel’s security cabinet is reviewing Washington’s concerns.

But that mechanism is unlikely to address Israel’s existing commitments to the Chinese, in particular the port project. Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry officials have internally lamented that the SIPG agreement was not cleared through them first.

Interest by Huawei and ZTE in Israel has also worried its US ally, which this week charged the latter with conspiracy and money laundering.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton visited Israel in December and raised the administration’s concerns over China’s various investments in the country with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and a Treasury Department official visited shortly thereafter with a similar message.

“We know that the threat of cyberattacks is growing each and every day,” US Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette said in a statement.

He said that in his meetings with Israeli officials, he would “share our experiences and concerns regarding certain Chinese foreign investment in Israel, and hope to continue a dialogue on best practices.”

One of Brouillette’s hosts, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, said in a statement after their meeting that the US deputy secretary had “raised their concern about the issue of foreign investments in the State of Israel.”

Asked separately about Chinese investment in Israel, Brouillette said in remarks aired by Army Radio: “If done incorrectly, you inhibit the other allies from sharing intelligence with you.”

In December 2016 Huawei acquired Israel’s HexaTier, whose technology secures databases in the cloud, for $42 million. This followed a visit to Israel by the Chinese technology giant’s CEO. That same month, it also acquired IT research firm Toga Networks for an undisclosed amount.

According to Israeli media, ZTE has shown interest in Israel’s tech sector since sending a senior delegation to the country in 2013.

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