New energy in the friendship between China and Israel

My colleague told me that we had robust discussions in the morning about the opportunities and challenges for China and Israel in a changing world.

China and United States flags (photo credit: REUTERS)
China and United States flags
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It was my great pleasure to join the Fourth Annual Conference on Israel’s China Policy this Thursday.
I am privileged to share my take on China, its relations with Israel and the world.
My colleague told me that we had robust discussions in the morning about the opportunities and challenges for China and Israel in a changing world.
Indeed, China is a trending topic. Israel, like many other countries, has an increasing appetite for China-related information, and the debate on how to deal with China is also gaining traction. There are many good suggestions but also unbalanced criticisms.
However, I believe no one would deny the fact that the People’s Republic of China has achieved all-round development and is playing a more prominent role worldwide.

THIS YEAR marks the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic. Momentous achievements were made with the leadership of the Communist Party of China and the relentless efforts of the Chinese people.
According to research, from 1913 to 1950, global GDP grew by 1.8% year by year, but for China, the economy shrunk by 0.02% annually. This was the beginning of the CPC’s governance.
Over the 70 years, China’s economy has grown from 60 billion to over 90 trillion RMB, becoming the second-largest economy and the largest contributor to global growth. China also ranks No. 1 in terms of industrial output, trade in goods and Forex reserves.
Moreover, people’s welfare was improved notably. Disposable income for average Chinese grew by 60 times. Over 800 million were lifted out of poverty. Average life expectancy increased from 35 to 77 years. China, once a country with 80% of its population illiterate, has built the largest higher education system in the world.
A growing China is also getting closer to the center of the world and taking up its responsibility as a major power. Seventy years ago, the People’s Republic was shut out of the Western world. Today, it has broken the blockade and isolation, and become a member of almost every intergovernmental organization.
As a staunching force of globalization, China is bringing more certainty to this uncertain world.
Take the Belt and Road Initiative, for example. It has created over 300,000 jobs for the participating countries and driven investment of over $150 billion. It is under the Belt and Road cooperation that the Maldives built its first cross-sea bridge, East Africa has its first expressway, and the Piraeus Port of Greece returned to its glory as a Mediterranean hub.
Several days ago, the second China International Import Expo was successfully concluded. Over 3,000 enterprises from more than 150 countries and regions participated in the event. As President Xi Jinping stated in the opening ceremony, China will adhere to its fundamental policy of opening up and stay committed to promote reform, development and innovation. This will bring about the opening up at an even higher level.

AS A more open China actively engages with the world, the old friendship between China and Israel is injected with new energy.
• Political mutual trust has been enhanced. In 2017, our two leaders announced the establishment of the China-Israel Innovative Comprehensive Partnership. It defines innovation as the link between our growth strategies and demonstrates that we see each other as long-term opportunities, not onetime expediency.
Last year, we convened the fourth meeting of the Joint Committee on Innovation Cooperation-JCIC and concluded the three-year action plan on economy, trade, agriculture, health, transportation, etc.
• Win-win cooperation is flourishing. Trade has grown from $10.9b. in 2014 to almost $14b. in 2018. We are also working hard on the bilateral Free Trade Agreement. The Chinese side hopes to complete the negotiation in a short period of time, so as to give a new boost to our cooperation and bring more benefits to our people and businesses.
• People-to-people relations are growing on a fast track. Four years ago, only El Al was operating direct flights between China and Israel. Now, airlines like Hainan, Sichuan and Cathay Pacific have all joined this aviation network, making the trip faster, more affordable and more comfortable.
From 2015 to 2018, the number of Chinese visiting Israel almost tripled from less than 50,000 to 139,000. And we expect this number to reach 150,000 this year.
In 2017, the Chinese Culture Center opened in Tel Aviv. A new and effective channel was established for Israelis to understand more about China through its culture.
However, given Israel’s territorial size, market volume, regional situation, the external pressure on China-Israel cooperation and the few well-known setbacks in our relations, Israel has yet to be a focus for the Chinese and its businesses.
For example, China-Israel bilateral trade accounts for only 0.3% of China’s total foreign trade, China’s investment in Israel represents only 0.4% of China’s global investment, and Chinese tourists to Israel make up merely 0.1% of China’s outbound visits. These numbers fully demonstrate that we still have a lot to do to unleash the potential.
There is a saying in China that “tall trees catch much more winds.” The Talmud also tells us that “even when you’re minding your own business, your enemy feels threatened.”
It is regrettable that a growing China and its dynamic cooperation with the world have been exploited by some people to defame and smear China’s image.
The Belt and Road Initiative was labeled as a secret agenda to take over the world, win-win cooperation is vilified as Trojan Horses. Law-abiding Chinese enterprises, industrious Chinese workers, quality and affordable Chinese products, as well as world-class Chinese projects, are all on their attack list.
Our Jewish friends must find this propaganda quite familiar. Because it’s almost the same when some people attacked a specific race and instigated racial hatred over the last few centuries.
History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes. The striking similarity between antisemitism and anti-China doctrine are rooted in the same ill mentality.
They all rise from arrogance and prejudice. “Ignorance is not a barrier to survival, but arrogance is.” This is a famous quote of the award-winning sci-fi novel The Three-Body Problem. I believe it pinpoints the biggest mistake of the Western world when trying to understand China.
Take the Hong Kong situation, for example. For months, rioters have been storming government buildings, paralyzing public transportation and attacking police forces. Such actions are beyond tolerance in any civilized countries.
However, the so-called reputable Western media have turned blind eyes to all the violent crimes and heaped praises on the rioters. Is this the fair and objective report of free and democratic media?
Anti-China doctrine also rises from unfounded suspicions. Its followers have an obsession with conspiracy theories, claiming that China will seek dominance through the “Game of Thrones” and plant evil plots like those in the House of Cards.
These are all malicious speculations on China’s development strategy. And there is a cure. Get off the high horses, get away from the prejudice and observe China in a truly equal manner. In this way, I trust you will find that Israel, as well as the world, has nothing to fear of China.
Many of our guests are experienced China watchers. Some of you must have read the Proclamation of the Founding of the People’s Republic of China, our declaration of independence. The very last line of the document reads: “This government is willing to establish diplomatic relations with any foreign government that is willing to observe the principles of equality, mutual benefit and mutual respect of territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
This is the bedrock of China’s diplomacy that will never change. Since the very first day of the People’s Republic, we have been throwing our arms wide to the world. We never pursue hegemony nor seek expansion. We respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other countries. We are ready to share our experience and provide the necessary assistance. We have no intention to export our model or to lecture others.
We pursue mutually beneficial cooperation. In this globalized world, countries all rise or fall together. A zero-sum mentality and a beggar-thy-neighbor policy are recipes for failure. China is committed to an open economy. It is our aim to advance our development as part of the development of the global community. In the next 15 years, China will import $30 trillion in goods and $10 trillion in services. We want everyone, including Israel, to have a share in this huge cake.
The Middle East is still plagued by conflicts and confrontations. However, China believes it is a land of tremendous hope. Instead of looking for a proxy here, we promote peace talks; instead of seeking sphere of influence, we call on all parties to join the Belt and Road friends circle; instead of filling the “vacuum,” we are committed to a network of win-win partnerships. In a word, we will continue to be a force of peace, growth and friendship.
In Chinese, we say: “When everybody adds fuel, the flames rise high.” In the Talmud, there is a similar saying: “If you lift the load with me, I will be able to lift it.”
The writer is the People’s Republic of China’s ambassador to Israel. The text is based on remarks at the Sino-Israel Global Network and Academic Leadership (SIGNAL) Fourth Annual Conference on Israel’s China Policy, delivered on November 14, 2019. It has been edited lightly from its original form to appear here.