Chinese-Israeli ties grew on Monday as Tel Aviv University and Beijing’s Tsinghua University signed a $300 million deal to establish a joint research and education center, to be called XIN, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem inaugurated a Confucius Institute.
Xin, which means “new” in Chinese, will operate at both universities “to develop bold and original solutions that will contribute significantly to their countries and to humanity as a whole,” focusing on fields such as nano-technology and addressing global issues, such as water, energy, health and the environment, known as Grand Challenges.
“We are proud of our unique agreement with Tsinghua University, and believe that the XIN Center will enhance the ties of TAU’s academic community with Tsinghua’s excellent research community, as well as the business world, both in Israel and worldwide,” said Tel Aviv University President Joseph Klafter.
President of Tsinghua University Jining Chen said the center would be an innovation hub that “will redefine interdisciplinary research and innovation and promote Grand Challenge projects that can truly benefit the global society.”
The idea is for each side to bring its unique cultural academic strengths to the program.
“Cooperation between the countries and the two universities is like a marriage with a new baby, which requires adaption to a new situation. The two sides have different yet complimentary cultures” said Zheng Quanshui, who will head the XIN center. “We intend to start small and grow the cooperation quickly.”
The first round, which will focus only on nano-technology, will recruit only seven advanced degree students from Tel Aviv University and 14 in China this summer.
While governments are pitching in some money for the $300m. price tag, the universities will seek private donations for the rest.
Israel’s Infinity group set up $16m. fund, comprising investors from Chinese industries and Tsinghua University alumni to help foot the bill.
“China-Israel cross-border innovation as well as ‘innovating’ is at the core of Infinity’s strategy, vision and activity.
This is why Infinity has committed to mentoring and investing in select projects at the XIN Center, which have the potential to positively change the world,” said Amir Gal-Or, managing partner at Infinity.
Also on Monday, students and delegates from across the globe gathered to see Vice Premier of The People’s Republic of China Lui Yandong speak at the inauguration of the Confucius Institute at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Confucius Institutes have been established at universities around the world by the Chinese Ministry of Education to promote the learning of Mandarin Chinese and Chinese culture.
This is the second such institute, following the founding of Tel Aviv University’s Confucius Institute in 2007.
“All of us, even those who speak of research that is far removed from China appreciate the growth of Chinese academia and its international importance,” said university rector, Prof. Asher Cohen, who introduced the ceremony.
After the opening words from Cohen there were performances by students, of traditional Chinese and Jewish song, dance and martial arts.
“The institute in Tel Aviv is for basic Chinese teaching. Here in the Hebrew University they have East Asian studies and they’ll be cooperation with that. Here there’ll be advanced study of Chinese history and culture,” said 21-year-old student Noa Yang, who not only helped organize the event but also sang during the ceremony.
A student from Peking University in China, Yang came to the Hebrew University for a spring in Jerusalem program, to study international relationships and communications.
“Israelis also come to China for business, for commerce, to study. I think the cooperation is going to be strengthened in a few years because there will be a stronger foundation,” Yang said.
Via a pre-recorded message, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave the newly founded institute his blessing, saying: “The Jewish and Chinese peoples both have their own ancient heritage and their proud traditions. We have much to learn through one another and much to gain through cooperative efforts such as the Confucius Institute.”
Yandong spoke last, telling the crowd via translator that in an effort to further strengthen Chinese/Israeli academic cooperation, she and the People’s Republic of China would be inviting 100 students from Israel to study in China, contributing 3,000 copies of language reading materials to the institute and awarding 100 scholarships to Israeli college students.
“Common destiny has brought our two peoples together,” said Yandong.
“Whenever I come to an institute of high learning I feel admiration. That’s built on a respect for knowledge. The Hebrew University is a symbol of the renaissance of the Jewish people of this land.”
The initiatives are the latest in a wave of cooperative agreements between Israel and China, not just in education, but also politics and business.
In September, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa received a $130m. grant from the Li Ka Shing Foundation to build an academy called the Technion Guangdong Institute of Technology as a joint venture with China’s Shantou University.
Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres visited China in the past year, and Netanyahu has cited it as a central engine for Israeli economic growth due to its growing markets.
Earlier on Monday, Netanyahu met with Yandong and announced a new cooperation initiative for emergency times.
“China is Israel’s largest trading partner in Asia and fast becoming perhaps Israel’s largest trading partner period as we move into the future. We see the great success of China. We admire China and we think there are complementary things that Israel brings to this relationship,” Netanyahu said, specifying the Chinese desire for Israeli innovation.
Chinese delegations are expected this week at MIXiii, Israel’s innovation conference, which will include a seminar on China-Israel relations.
At the same time, the Israel China Interflow Association (ICIA) and the Knesset Hi Tech Caucus will host 20 prominent Chinese businessmen and investors for the Israel-China Economic Summit, a conference devoted to Israel-China Economic cooperation primarily in the hi-tech sector.