Food for thought

The next step in the global geopolitics – Taking the China-Israel relationship to the next level

By TAMARA YARON
October 22, 2018 11:24
CHINESE PREMIER Li Keqiang escorts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu past an honor guard

CHINESE PREMIER Li Keqiang escorts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu past an honor guard outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (photo credit: GPO)

After graduating from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem 25 years ago, I landed in Beijing to continue my studies at Renmin University of China on a joint Chinese-Israeli government scholarship. Israel-China relations have been an integral, wonderful and fulfilling part of my life ever since.

Undoubtedly, Israel and China established a good foundation for cooperation that is solid and mutually beneficial, based on a deep-rooted friendship and respect. This goes well beyond the 26 years of diplomatic ties. The bilateral connections continue to flourish in many areas in a blessed way. One of the reasons for this is our nations’ cultural similarities.

Both of our treasured traditions have a history of helping each other at times of difficulty.

The Jewish and Israeli people cherish China’s remarkable support that was extended during the Holocaust. China did not display indifference. On the contrary, it showed empathy. China opened its gates to several thousand Jews, mainly from Europe, who escaped the Nazi regime and immigrated to China. This saved their lives, including that of the late Shaul Eisenberg, a business pioneer in China who, in the 1970s, contributed in very meaningful ways to the establishment of diplomatic relations between our nations. Later, in 1996, he established the Council for the Promotion of Israel-China Relations, which I am fortunate to be a part of since its inception.
The purposes of the council are the encouragement and tightening of the relations between China and Israel. The council serves as a pioneering, deeply rooted pillar of friendship in the bilateral relations between China and Israel.

In line with the Jewish saying, “Whoever saves one life saves the entire world,” in 1998, the Council for the Promotion of Israel-China Relations raised funds to support survivors of China’s flood disaster. Israel also rendered support to China’s earthquake victims in 2008.

Writing this article made me think of 2015, the first annual non-governmental forum of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures (CICA), in which I participated at the invitation of the Chinese government. The theme of the forum was “Asia in the Next Decade – Security and Development.”

As I advocated at that conference, and as can be learned from altruistic acts of both nations, there is great importance in going beyond preconceived mind-sets, and adopting a positive synergy between development and security through common united efforts and amicable cooperation for mutual benefits, so as to assure peaceful coexistence.

There are people who limit development efforts to their own territories because they are afraid of the development of others. Some think that it may stem from their own security, but in fact, as people learn to promote mutual cooperation, upon its achievement, security is increased as resentment and hatred decrease.

If only one party makes progress and the other does not, there will be no security. If two parties or more develop through cooperation, the security of all will increase. Thus, I encourage mutual cooperation that will lead to solidarity and mutual support.

It may sound like an idealistic, utopian view of life, yet throughout history we can see that one would not have achieved the possible had they not striven to achieve the impossible.

Development contributes to security, and in fact, as this understanding will deepen, it will lead to a more fruitful and friendly cooperation. There is a necessity to advocate for peace through cooperation and education.

Both China and Israel value education and view it as one of society’s cornerstones and important means for regional understanding. Conflicts will always exist, yet with better understanding of the other, they will be reduced and become more manageable.

Despite the fact that Israel and China are two countries far away from each other, there are similarities in our thinking, our philosophies and behaviors. Thus, the questions arise: Are we at an important crossroad of conflicts in the world? Will we leverage our friendship and help each other again?

It seems that current circumstances are calling us to take our relationship further, moving beyond the traditional means of cooperation, such as trade, student exchange, technology transfer, etc. Together, we may look at the global geopolitics and perhaps we can work to advance our mutual interests for the benefit of all humankind.

Israel and other parties in the Middle East have differences of opinion, philosophies and ideologies. Could China play a role as a broker between the different stakeholders to achieve a more stable region and long-term peace?

China and the United States of America are facing a difficult path in trade affairs. Could Israel become a broker to smoother relations?
Israel-China relations have yet to be fully realized. Perhaps we can promote further our work together and expand our bilateral relations to a broader context for a better society, better country and a better world.

May the relations between China and Israel strengthen, deepen, thrive and soar to new heights. May both nations enjoy a bright and prosperous future.

Throughout the years, the Council for the Promotion of Israel-China Relations’ activities have varied – from lectures on China and bilateral relations, and periodic seminars examining China’s economy and Israel-China relations – to the hosting and holding of some constructive dialogue, in which vitally important issues were discussed with high-level delegations and official visitors from China, during the course of their visits as Israeli government's guests. The council also dispatched delegations from Israel to China, led by the council’s founding honorary president Shimon Peres; honorary patron Moshe Arens; former chairman Erwin Eisenberg and Dr. Miriam Adelson, the current chairwoman of the council.

In 2010, the council launched a flagship enrichment program hosting Chinese students who study at universities throughout Israel. The program aims to deepen the connections of the two nations’ younger generations. It provides students a unique opportunity to participate in a variety of authentic experiences dealing with different aspects of Israel, such as its history, culture, heritage, etc.
From time to time, Israeli students join as well – it allows for cross-learning and bonding. All the leading Chinese media outlets are invited and participate. Consequently the ring of friendships expands. In the realm of the council’s activities which took place in 2018, several hundred Chinese participants joined. The growing number of participants since we launched the program reflects the growing interest in Israel and the deepening friendship between the nations.

While the Chinese named our program “The Spirit of Israel,” we Israelis are highly impressed by the vibrant Chinese energy among participants. The intellectual ambiance of the Chinese scholars, students and our other Chinese friends was remarkably impressive. I am always charmed by the Chinese people’s kindness and friendliness. We hope that the students from both our nations will continue to be part of this bilateral world after the completion of their studies.

The writer has more than 22 years of diverse experience in her voluntary work in the realm of the Council for the Promotion of Israel-China Relations (general-secretary since its founding and also director-general as of 2008) as well as in her corporate work with global leading companies doing business with China, such as the Eisenberg Group, Check-Point Software Technologies and TEVA.


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