Israel low on China’s geopolitical radar screen

China values Israel greatly because of its stability and strength.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attend the Taiji and Yoga event at the Temple of Heaven park in Beijing, China on May 15 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attend the Taiji and Yoga event at the Temple of Heaven park in Beijing, China on May 15
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Dr. Cui Shoujun’s “The logic of China’s Israel policy” (The Jerusalem Post, September 26), in preparation for the China Policy Conference in Herzliya set for September 29, is encouraging but presents some troubling Chinese trends vis-à-vis Israel.
Encouraging because it confirms China values Israel greatly because of its stability and strength. China thinks highly of Israel’s vibrant technology and innovation as it endeavors to become itself an innovation- based economy.
Troubling because it confirms and explains what observers have detected for a year already: on China’s global geopolitical radar, Israel ranks low. China’s top leaders, who keep visiting dozens of countries all over the world, do not come to Israel.
What is important to them is the Muslim world, particularly the Arab countries and Iran.
They have the numbers, they have enormous territories and resources, they sit exactly at the juncture of the three continents China plans to penetrate with its multi-billion dollar “Belt and Silk Road Initiative”: Asia, Africa and Europe.
The Jews? Brilliant, tenacious, sometimes disliked – but few in number. Israel? Admirable, but in trouble with its neighbors and minuscule. From a Marxist- Leninist point of view, you have to go for the Arabs and Iranians. The future is theirs.
Quantity counts. Quantity turns into quality. These are the facts of life, and Cui Shoujun explains them ever so gently to the Israelis for whom he clearly has warm feelings.
This is not the place to discuss whether the future belongs to the Arabs and Iranians because they have the numbers. There is an unending stream of Western literature on this question.
What needs to be discussed is whether China’s leaders – Cui Shoujun, an associate professor at Renmin University of China, is clearly their mouthpiece – see the equation between Jews and Muslims, between Israel and the Arabs or Iranians correctly.
Not from the point of view of Israel’s interest, but that of China’s. Does treating Israel as a much less important factor than the Arabs and Iranians guarantee and strengthen relations with the latter? What if the opposite is true? Ancient Chinese philosophy speculates about opposites, about balancing opposing forces, about one force turning back into the opposite. The Chinese leadership does not base the defense of China’s interest on ancient philosophy – but should base it on recent history.
History teaches us that the Arab-Israeli equation is very complex. The idea that downgrading one side guarantees you the love of the other is too simplistic.
Great Britain supported Zionism at the very beginning but then turned against the Zionists and Israel because the Arabs had the numbers, the territories and the oil. The British earned no gratitude. To this day they are the most disliked of all foreign powers which ever interfered in the Middle East.
Much more noteworthy for China is its neighbor, India.
Not China’s friend just now, but a country that China will have to take more and more seriously as a major strategic challenge. India followed Britain’s example with a vengeance.
From 1948 when Israel was created to 1992 when it first established diplomatic relations with Israel, its policy was resolutely hostile to Israel and supportive of all Arab and Palestinian claims against Israel. Then, later in the 20th century, the Indians began to see that they got little back for their support: the Arabs and Iranians were convinced that India was “in their pocket” anyway.
India’s relations with Israel began to improve without any negative effects on India’s links with the Muslim world. Then, with Narendra Modi coming to power in Delhi (2014), India’s attitude toward Israel became one of open friendship and fast-increasing links. Did this damage India’s relations with the Muslim world? Not at all.
The Indian Middle East expert Prof. Kumaraswamy wrote that the Arabs and Iranians finally understood that they “had to take India seriously.” Now, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran are eagerly competing for India’s favors, mindless of India’s growing military links with Israel. The sooner the Chinese leadership understands India’s experience in the Middle East, the better for China, not only Israel.
There is a second fact absent in Dr. Cui Shoujun’s article: Israel is fast becoming an Asian power. The Chinese, exactly like the Americans, see Israel only in the Middle East context. This is a big mistake. Israel’s relations not only with India, but with Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and others, not all China’s friends, are growing fast. Israelis have no hostile intentions toward China, on the contrary, but they will take any Asian hand that is outstretched to Israel. Israel cannot choose. It does not have an abundance of friends. Countries like Japan and Vietnam, in addition to India, want to develop advanced defense cooperation with Israel. Israel does not say no. If this is of no interest to China, it can continue to treat Israel as unimportant. If it is of interest, China should finally begin to talk to Israel at the highest levels, and regularly. All great powers do, including Russia and India.
The writer, a Senior Fellow at The Jewish People Policy Institute, Jerusalem, is author of the JPPI publications China and the Jewish People – Ancient Civilizations in a New Era (English 2004, Hebrew 2005, Chinese 2010) and India, Israel and the Jewish People, to be published by the end of 2016.