China’s Ambassador to Israel

Bilateral ties between China and Israel have reached new highs, China's ambassador to Israel told The Jerusalem Report.

China’s Ambassador Zhan Yongxin (photo credit: CHINESE EMBASSY)
China’s Ambassador Zhan Yongxin
(photo credit: CHINESE EMBASSY)
Twenty-six years after China and Israel established full diplomatic relations, bilateral ties have soared to new heights, according to China’s Ambassador to Israel, His Excellency Zhan Yongxin. He made the comment in an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Report on October 11.
Your Excellency, how do you see the current state of relations between China and Israel?
Since China and Israel established full diplomatic relations in 1992, bilateral relations have enjoyed a stable and healthy development. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the cooperation between China and Israel as “a marriage made in heaven.” And we couldn’t agree more.
Firstly, frequent high-level visits have deepened our mutual trust. Mutual visits and political exchanges have been carried out at all levels of our governments. Prime Minister Netanyahu paid a successful visit to China in March of 2017, when he met with President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang as well as other Chinese leaders. It was during this visit that China and Israel announced the establishment of the Innovative Comprehensive Partnership, which opened a new chapter of our friendly cooperation. Currently, we are preparing the 4th meeting of China-Israel Joint Committee on Innovation Cooperation (JCIC). We believe this meeting will further strengthen the relations between our two countries.
Secondly, flourishing cooperation has borne fruitful outcomes. In 1992, the bilateral trade volume was only 50 million dollars. While in 2017, it surged to over 13 billion dollars, registering an increase of over 260 times. China is now Israel’s largest trading partner in Asia and the third largest across the world. In the first half of 2018, our trade grew by 21.6%, which is 5 times faster than the global average. Israel is also attracting more and more Chinese investment. The total amount of investment from China in Israel has jumped to over 7 billion dollars.
Last but not least, vibrant people-to-people exchanges have brought us closer. In 1992, only several thousand visits between China and Israel were recorded. Whereas in 2017, the number of Chinese people visiting Israel reached 139,000, almost three times as many as in 2015. The number of visitors from Israel to China has also increased to 52,000, demonstrating an equally strong momentum. The China Cultural Center opened in Tel Aviv in November last year, establishing another channel for Israelis to understand more about China. China and Israel have established more than 20 pairs of sister cities, and the exchanges between our think tanks and media are getting increasingly frequent.
Why does China find Israel interesting, and how can Israel contribute to China, which is emerging as the world’s most powerful economy?
Israel is a well-known start-up nation, strong in creation and innovation, good at doing things from 0 to 1. China, with strong financing and manufacturing capabilities and a huge market, is good at doing things from 1 to 100. Therefore, China-Israel cooperation is highly complementary.
For the purpose of better enhancing and coordinating our innovation cooperation in various fields, the two countries have established the mechanism of China-Israel Joint Committee on Innovation Cooperation (JCIC). Since the establishment of the JCIC in 2014, China-Israel cooperation on innovation has achieved fruitful results. We have made breakthroughs on research cooperation and set up joint research platforms. We have launched an Innovative Youth Leadership Program, under which research universities in both countries are working closely to promote technology and innovation education in China. Supported by the Israeli Ministry of Economy and Industry and nine provincial or municipal governments from China, companies on both sides have cooperated on industrial technology development and application in Shanghai, Jiangsu, Guangdong and Shenzhen. More and more Israeli start-up companies have obtained investment from China and access to the Chinese market.
The 4th Meeting of the JCIC will be held in Israel soon. I am sure we will see more tangible results released after the meeting.
What is your vision for future cooperation, joint projects and economic ventures?
2018 marks the 5th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Israel is among the first Middle East countries that voiced its support for the BRI and is a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). Our cooperation under the BRI and within the AIIB will embrace an even broader and brighter future, thus bringing more tangible benefits to our peoples.
This year also marks the 40th anniversary of China’s reform and opening-up. President Xi Jinping has reaffirmed repetitively that China will open its market wider and contribute more opportunities to the world. As China’s economy is under transformation from the phase of rapid growth to quality-oriented development, China is vigorously implementing the innovation-driven development strategy. Concrete projects within the framework of our Innovative Comprehensive Partnership will surely gain new momentum.
In the next five years, China is expected to import over 10 trillion dollars worth of high-quality commodities and services to meet the demand of its 1.3 billion population. In November this year, China is going to hold the China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai. Around 140 countries and regions, including Israel, and about 3,000 companies have confirmed their participation and over 150,000 professional buyers in and outside China are expected to attend the Expo.
We hope that Israeli companies will showcase their best high-end products and explore more business opportunities in the CIIE. The pragmatic cooperation between the enterprises of our two countries is mutually beneficial and will surely contribute to the promotion and deepening of the China-Israel Innovative Comprehensive Partnership.
Both China and Israel have ancient cultures and are world leaders in innovation. How do you see the similarities and differences between the two countries?
The Chinese and the Jewish people, two great nations with time-honored histories, have enjoyed friendly exchanges for over 1,000 years. We both have created splendid civilizations and contributed much to the development of mankind. We both have risen after setbacks and are marching towards national rejuvenation. In the new era, both countries have put innovation at the top of the agenda of government.
Chinese people are innovative. The four great inventions of China in ancient times (the compass, gunpowder, papermaking and printing techniques) had significant impacts on the history of mankind. Nowadays, after 40 years of reform and opening-up, the development of China has entered a new era and established new goals
The Chinese government is focusing on bringing the incentive of mass entrepreneurship and innovation into full play to boost employment, technology innovation, and the development of industries.
Israel’s outstanding ability of innovation derives from the natural condition of the nation, the industriousness and the spirit of “chutzpah” of the Jewish people. After decades of development, Israel has established a very mature mechanism and friendly environment for innovation. If we combine the rich innovative human resources of Israel and the financial and market advantages of China, the two old nations will be able to make more contributions to the world.
With the increase of flights between the two countries, what kind of increase do you foresee in tourists, travelers and business people between the two countries?
China is a huge market for tourism and maintains the world’s largest outbound tourist source country. According to China Tourism Academy, in 2017 Chinese citizens’ outbound travel exceeded 130 million people, spending 115.29 billion dollars. In recent years, Israel has become an increasingly popular destination for Chinese tourists. There is a big potential for tourism cooperation between China and Israel. I was told that a Chinese-speaking tour guide has become one of the most needed jobs in Israel.
Up to now, an aviation network is taking shape between our two countries, with regular direct flights operating between Tel Aviv and Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Hong Kong, covering major cities in the north, south, east and west of China. The number of direct flights has reached 224 each month. It is certain that we will see a steady increase of visits by tourists, travelers and business people from both countries.