China and Israel

Two ancient peoples reborn in modern nation-states during the early phases of decolonization, China and Israel have a budding relationship.  But it wasn’t always this warm; China initially supported Israel, seeing them as revolutionaries declaring independence from their imperial overlords, however their support would wane and eventually cease after the Suez Crisis, as the Chinese came to see Israel as a base for Western imperialism. Mao would strongly support the Palestinians in their call for liberation, until America and China reached a detente in 1972, and tensions between China and Israel thawed.  Cooperation would increase in the field of defense technology, eventually leading to the full restoration ties between China and Israel in 1992.  Despite American objections to Israel providing China with classified defense technologies, causing Israel to sever defense cooperation with China in 2005, economic ties have only increased.  As China ascends and perhaps America descends, will the Chinese eventually overtake America as Israel’s superpower patron?  Perhaps not, however ties between China and Israel are set to increase dramatically in coming decades. 

In the 1930’s, David Ben-Gurion, the founder of modern Israel, proclaimed that China would be one of the great powers of the future.  Israel gained it’s independence in 1948, and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) emerged victorious in the Chinese Civil War, vanquishing Chang Kai-Shek and the American-backed nationalists to Formosa (modern Taiwan), declaring independence in late 1949.  


Israel became the first country in the Middle East and one of the the first in the world to recognize the new Chinese government in January of 1950, voting that the PRC should sit for China at the UN.  This occurred despite Israel’s impoverishment and reliance on America for food aid; Israel didn’t take American reaction into consideration doing what was best solely for their national interest, with high level talks ensuing between the Jewish state and the PRC.  


Israel and the PRC came into indirect odds during the Korean war, as Israel supported UN forces through food and medical aid, but not military reinforcements.  Regardless, ties gradually increased as Israel advocated for the PRC to takes China’s seat at the UN, until Israel, along with Taiwan (Republic of China (ROC)), was excluded from the 1955 Bandung Conference; Pakistan opposed both Israel and the PRC’s involvement at Bandung, however an agreement whereby Israel was excluded yet the PRC was invited ultimately placated the Pakistanis.  A gradual strengthening of ties between the PRC and the Arab world began.  


Connections between Israel and China ceased altogether after China labeled Israel’s 1956 invasion of Egypt, Operation Kadesh, an act of aggression. 

China proceeded to endorse the 1947 UN partition plan and declared the Arab-Israeli conflict an excuse for Western powers to become involved in the Middle East.  Anti-Israel rhetoric proliferated in the People’s Republic.    


At first, the PRC saw Israel as a colonized people whom had gained independence from their imperial overlords, and therefore supported them, as they did many other former colonies, in an attempt to build a united front against the West.  After Suez, the PRC saw Israel as a springboard for Western imperialists, whom they perceived to be building a ring around China; China vehemently opposed Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the Sinai, asserting that free passage through the Suez should not be granted until the Arab refugee crisis was solved.  In 1948, the Chinese communists has stated the Arbs attacked Israel, however by 1957 they we’re saying that Israel started a war against it’s neighbors, representing a clear shift in Chinese opinion.  


In 1964, China was the first non-Arab government to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), allowing it to open up an office in Peking; Chinese interest in the region grew in response to what they perceived as American and Soviet collusion to control the third-world, and therefore supported people’s revolutionary movements as a means to countering superpower hegemony. Huge demonstrations broke out in support of the Palestinians in Peking, as the Chinese would go on to train guerrilla groups, provide aid and support all Palestinian territorial claims, urging a people’s war against Israel, though Maoist doctrine insinuated that such a struggle must be fought by the people’s concerned and not be instigated by an outside power.   


A PLO delegation visited Peking in 1965 and Mao told them, “Israel and Formosa are bases of imperialism….they created Israel for you, and Formosa for us.”  Palestine day was celebrated on May 15th, 1965, and would repeat until 1971, after which it would cease.    
In 1972, America achieved rapprochement with China, as Nixon visited Mao in Beijing; To the American people, China was no longer the enemy    


The Middle East became increasingly important to China, who saw countries such as Egypt and Iran as being disillusioned by American and Soviet imperialism.  However, there ties with Palestinians would wane, as no support as shown to Arafat after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and Palestinian revolutionaries were firmly rejected by Israeli reprisal raids.    


Military expertise reignited ties, as Chinese struggles along their Vietnamese border caused China and Israel to sign their first arms deal in December 1979 (US$265 million.  The Egypt-Israel peace treaty of 1979 simultaneously strained relations between China and the Palestinians.  A second arms deal, packaged with Israeli technical expertise and technology and totaling $1.5 billion, was signed in 1983, making them China’s second-largest arms supplier behind the USSR.  


The Pentagon protested, however, as Israel was de facto selling American technology to China.  This concern would reappear many times in the coming decades, as Beijing’s would acquire U.S. Patriot anti-missile interceptor technology in 1992; By 1995, China was purchasing 20% of their arms from Israel.  


In 1985 Israeli scholars began attending conferences in China, and vice-versa.  Israeli tourists were now allowed to travel to China, most of which was done via Hong Kong.  Shimon Peres created the first state-vehicle for trade between the two nations on the late 80’s.   


Moshe Arans, then Israel’s defense minister, visited China in 1991, leading to a full restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries in 1992.  Embassies opened up in Beijing and Tel Aviv, and Peres and Rabin embarked upon their first state visit to China.  


From this point forward, ties would improve significantly.   


The Americans comprised a major roadblock to increased Sino-Israeli defense cooperation, however: 


“The $131 million joint laser weapon program was launched in 1996 in an effort to rapidly build a weapon to knock out Katyusha rockets fired by Hezbollah guerrillas based in southern Lebanon…..According to DIA, Chinese officials were seen at the IAI Systems and Space Technology Division facility outside Tel Aviv twice between July and October 1997.”


Two years later, a DIA report noted that US laser technology (the tactical high energy laser, or THEL), supplied to Israel, had been transferred to China.  Israel also helped the PRC develop its F-10 fighter. In the summer of 2000, America forced Israel to cancel its sale of the Phalcon advanced airborne early-warning system to China.  These incidents, among others, halted technology sharing between US defense manufactures and Israel.


Why did America object so vehemently?  Because America and her allies we’re rivals with China, competing for influence in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.  Therefore, Israel’s illegal transfer of advanced technologies to the PRC compromised America’s Pacific Command (PACOM), as well as Japan’s, technological edge.


Under immense American pressure, Israel severed defense relations with China in 2005.


Economic ties only continued to increase, though, as trade shot up from $3.8 billion in 2006 to around $8 billion in 2013, two-thirds of which was comprised of Chinese exports to Israel. 


Various economic initiatives, both private and public, we’re undertaken.  One example was China’s Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) digging the Carmel Tunnel in Haifa and assisting in building the Red Line of Tel Aviv’s light-rail project in 2008.   In May 2013, during his second-ever diplomatic visit to Beijing, Israeli PM Netanyahu oversaw the signing of a $400 million trade agreement.  In December of that same year, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi reciprocated by visiting the Jewish state.  Naftali Bennett, then Minister of the Economy, initiated as project called "water city" which implemented Israeli water solutions to China.
China was the last country Shimon Peres visited as a public official, where Xi Jinping declared Peres “the father of strategic relations” between Israel and China.


Significant private investment is also prevalent, as in 2015 40% of all venture capital flowing into Israel came from China.


Israeli and Chinese officials signed a $300 million trade agreement in Beijing on September 11, 2017, increasing the export of environmentally-friendly agricultural and energy technologies to China.  Today, 5.49% , or $3 billion, of Israel’s total exports end up in China, whereas Chinese exports compose 8.96%, or $6 billion, of Israel’s imports, revealing a huge trade deficit.  Israel exports even more to Hong Kong, comprising 7.32%, or $4.5 billion to Hong Kong, and imports almost $2 billion, or 3% of total imports.


So what?  The story of China and Israel’s relationship is a microcosm of China’s relationship with the broader Western world.  The Chinese supported Israel’s independence, seeing the Jews as righteous against their imperial overlords, however when Western aggression manifested itself in the 1956 Suez Crisis, the Chinese recolored Israel as a mere puppet of the American, English, French, West German and even Soviet imperialists, instead supporting the PLO in their revolutionary struggle against the Israelis.  After detente with the US in 1972, tensions between China and Israel thawed, and defense cooperation increased, leading to a full restoration of ties between China and Israel in 1992.  Since then, trade and ties have improved, despite objections from the American’s who fear the Israeli’s are giving away valuable defense technology to their rival.  As China’s global influence grows, and perhaps America’s wanes, will China gradually overtake America as Israel’s main superpower patron?  Only time will tell, and it's unlikely to happen anytime soon, however China and Israel's relationship will only become more intimate as years goes by.