Chinese President Xi Jinping is looking forward to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s expected visit to Beijing this year, Chinese Ambassador to Israel Cai Run told Netanyahu in a meeting on Wednesday.
The leadership in Beijing invited Netanyahu earlier this year, and the Prime Minister’s Office announced a month ago that he plans to visit, though a date has yet to be set. The PMO emphasized that Netanyahu immediately updated Washington about the invitation and that the visit is not meant to be a message to US President Joe Biden.
Diplomatic sources in Washington and other Western states said in recent weeks that they viewed Netanyahu's expected Beijing trip with concern.
When Netanyahu told members of the US House Armed Services Committee about the trip, he also said that "the security and intelligence cooperation between the US and Israel are at their greatest height of all times and emphasized that the US will always be a vital, irreplaceable ally of Israel," his spokesman said at the time.
Multiple senior Israeli officials have argued that Netanyahu's visit to Beijing should not be regarded by Washington as problematic because US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen recently visited despite US-China tensions.
Xi also sent Netanyahu an autographed copy of his book, The Governance of China, which the ambassador gave him in their meeting on Wednesday.
Netanyahu's invitation to the east
The Chinese president said, via the ambassador, that he read with interest the parts of Netanyahu’s autobiography, Bibi, regarding Israel-China relations.
In his book, Netanyahu discusses the early years of diplomatic ties between Israel and China and his efforts to “impress upon the Chinese leadership the importance of refraining from supplying Iran with nuclear weapons technology.” In addition, he recounts his first meeting with Xi, who was “totally focused on his mission to make China…the leading power in the world” and “clearly understood that Israel was a fount of technology that China could not afford to overlook.”
Netanyahu wrote that he “walked a fine line with China. On the one hand, I wanted to open the enormous Chinese market to Israel and also lure Chinese investments to Israel, particularly in physical infrastructure. On the other, I was totally frank about setting clear limitations on what types of technologies we would share with China, stopping when it came to military and intelligence fields.
“This was our solemn commitment to our great all the United States,” he said.
Washington and other Western capitals, however, have urged Israel to do more to protect itself from China possibly making malign use of Israeli technology in which it invests and critical infrastructure in which it is involved building.
A Western diplomatic source said on Wednesday that they remain concerned that Israel’s safeguards against China are insufficiently robust.
Carice Witte, executive director of SIGNAL - Sino-Israel Global Network and Academic Leadership, posited that the gift to Netanyahu was Beijing’s way to distract from the disappearance and deposition of Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang on Tuesday.
“It is very common for Chairman Xi's books on governance to be given as gifts to academics, China scholars, and national leaders. What is much less common is the interest by China in using the moment of giving of the books as a reason for a photo op,” Witte said.
“The rumor mill among China watchers around the world is running at full steam,” she added. “Pulling the international community's attention away from the story of the man who once enjoyed the trust of China's leader…is probably happening in different ways in different countries. In Israel, it's a box of signed copies of Xi Jinping's book The Governance of China.”