Shimon Peres’s yin-and-yang philosophy

The late leader’s vision for peace in a hi-tech world is widely admired in China, but their mutual admiration goes well beyond the hi-tech realm.

PRESIDENT SHIMON Peres chats with China’s President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing April 2014 (photo credit: REUTERS)
PRESIDENT SHIMON Peres chats with China’s President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing April 2014
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘What is similar in Chinese and Israeli culture is honor and the depth of history. You weren’t born yesterday, and history is not just events, it’s also philosophy,” the late Shimon Peres observed in an interview with China’s CCTV in 2014.
“But on the other hand, you have the guts to look at the future. Don’t forget what happened, but don’t ignore what’s going on. We’re like you... on a smaller scale,” he smiled.
In the early 1980s, the visionary politician paved the way for Sino-Israeli relations, years before official ties were established in 1992. He was one of the first Israelis to visit China after it underwent reform, and as prime minister his government created the first state vehicle to advance commercial exchange with China. The country was also his last official state visit, when he visited Beijing and was warmly welcomed by the Chinese people and their president, Xi Jinping.
Today, at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, the nonprofit organization is upholding the leader’s legacy advocating for peace and his fondness for China.
“He felt there were a lot of similarities between Jewish and Chinese culture, which both focus on education and hard work,” said Nadav Tamir, senior adviser for governmental and international affairs at the center. “He admired the ability of China to pull so many people out of poverty – leaders the world over have much to learn from them.”
China in turn “admires our innovation and the fact that Israel was able to transform itself from a developing to a developed country so quickly. They really see the benefits of the connections because they want our technology and want us to help enrich their innovation ecosystem,” Tamir said.
Peres marveled at China’s ability, without external help, to transform their situation and become one of the most vibrant economies in the world.
Like Peres, the organization believes that peace and innovation are inexorably linked.
“This is the yin and yang of his vision,” Tamir said. “If you’re not innovative, you can’t achieve peace. Even though peace was important, Peres was Mr. Innovation. He was the father of the Start-up Nation.”
As such, the center provides hi-tech initiatives where Israelis and Palestinians work together. The ultimate goal being that by working side by side, the two peoples can see each other’s inner humanity and look beyond hate and prejudice.
“He used to get a lot of Chinese visitors who admired him for his role as founding father of his state and his role in the Start-up Nation. I saw this firsthand when I visited China,” Tamir said.
Peres was in his element as he visited the country in 2014. A segment of his trip was streamed live on Weibo – a social networking site in China – that generated a whopping 50 million views, a statistic unheard of in Israel.
“He really felt that China can help us here in the region and that China has a global role to play that Israel should leverage,” he explained. “After all, we’re too small to be titans in an industry or have big markets, but we can produce ideas – that’s what we’re good at. China and Israel can really complement each other. He believed that Israel and China together can create synergy.”
The center, which conducts tours explaining how the Start-Up Nation was born, provides talks in a variety of languages, including Mandarin, at its state-of-the art facility overlooking the Jaffa Port.
The Chinese Embassy in Tel Aviv works closely with the center to find ways to draw the two nations even closer together. As an example, the embassy has co-sponsored their mini-World Cup, where they bring Israeli and Palestinian soccer athletes together in competition.
But as China’s role in the world grows larger, so too does its responsibility. For decades, China has elected to stay out of the politics of the Middle East. But it is impossible to divorce a country’s geo-political situation from its commercial one. As such, China has found itself delicately balancing between working with its friends in the Arab world – which it must do to fulfill its energy needs – and Israel.
“I participated in a seminar with the Chinese foreign minister which hosted Israeli and Palestinian delegations, where they tried to brainstorm with us how they can be more effective in the region,” Tamir recalled. “They are always trying to be careful. They believe countries shouldn’t intrude into other country’s politics. Should both sides be interested, I think they’d want to sit at the table and help.”
For now, though, China and Israel have fully embraced the vision Peres saw more than two decades ago: two ancient civilizations, working side by side, to bring innovative solutions to every corner of the world.