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Israel - China Relations

It is in Israel's interest to have a good relationship with China. While it is important for Israel to have strategic dialogues with China, "there are clear limitations" for Israel in terms of its military and security cooperation with China. By 2007 relations with China had completely recovered from several cold years following the "Phalcon crisis" when Israel canceled a military contract with China at the insistence of the United States. She said that military cooperation with China is now very minor and tightly controlled, with full transparency with the US.

The military-commercial romance between Israel and China began in secret in the early 1980s, with the consent and encouragement of the Americans. It ended, in practice, with an enormous crisis with the administration with the Phalcon affair in 2000.

In the late 1990s, Tel Aviv agreed to a $250 million deal to provide the PRC with the Israeli Phalcon airborne early-warning and control system. Washington was concerned the system could be used against U.S. forces in the event of a conflict in the Taiwan Strait and put heavy pressure on Israel to cancel the deal. In 2000, Tel Aviv agreed to cancel the deal.

Despite the Phalcon affair, Israel insisted on not understanding. The defense industry milieu in Israel is a powerful player with great influence. In addition, the security establishment thought that they were smarter, that Israel'sr friends in Congress would look out for them, that the formal definitions would be on our side -- and continued to sell problematic military equipment to China.

The Phalcon episode was seen as an embarrassment to both Beijing and Tel Aviv and since then Israel adopted a very cautious weapons sales policy toward the PRC and Taiwan. As a result of this incident, Israel enacted new legislation on technology transfers which created a special committee in the MoD to review technology transfers and required the MFA to review these transfers, with the right to veto them. She noted that before the Falcon crisis, the MFA had no role in the transfer of military technology. She also added that all Israeli contacts with China take into account Israel's special relationship with the United States.

China is also the largest recipient of Israeli overseas assistance, largely focused on three projects: a dairy farm outside Beijing, a demonstration farm outside Beijing tied to university research, and an arid agriculture demonstration farm in Xinjiang, northwest China. The dairy farm has been enormously successful and has significantly increased China's yield per cow as dairy products become more popular in China.

China appreciates its relationship with Israel, has respect for its rich culture and military capabilities, and is satisfied with the agricultural cooperation between the two countries. China is interested in resuming its security cooperation with Israel, and does not want a situation to develop wherein Israel has to choose between the U.S. and China.

Soon after the two countries exchanged diplomatic missions in 1992, trade figures began increasing. The size of Chinese investments in Israel also grew exponentially, from $50m in the early 1990s to $16.5bn according to 2016 estimates. Much of these investments will be focused on technology, which makes the nature of the China-Israel relationship different from that which bonded Beijing with Arab countries for decades.

In April 2000, the former president of China, Jiang Zemin was the first Chinese leader to ever visit Israel, touring the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum and paying diplomatic dues to his Israeli counterparts. Then, he spoke of China’s intentions to cement the bond between the two countries. China’s Vice President Wang Qishan arrived in Israel on 23 October 2018 for a four-day visit to head the fourth China-Israel Innovation Committee. He is the highest-ranking Chinese official to visit Israel in nearly two decades.

China has maintained a consistent position in support of the Palestinian people, calling for an end to the Israeli occupation and for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. However, Beijing’s firm position regarding the rights of Palestinians, seems as of little consequence to its relationship with Israel, as joint technological ventures, trade and investments continue to grow unhindered. Beijing’s position on Palestine, at least officially, has always been consistent. Back in the 1960’s, China was the first non-Arab country to enter into diplomatic relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

China’s foreign policymakers operate with the mistaken assumption that their country can be pro-Palestine and pro-Israel at once, criticizing the occupation, yet sustaining it; calling on Israel to respect international law while at the same time empowering Israel, however unwittingly, in its ongoing violations of Palestinian human rights.

On Taiwan, Israel fully supports the one-China policy, although Israel maintains trade relations and political contacts with Taiwan and has hosted several high-level Taiwanese visits from Taiwan without problems from China. Economic ties between Taiwan and Israel are rapidly growing and are actively promoted by both sides. Both Taipei and Tel Aviv believe they have a lot to offer each other commercially. Taiwan is Tel Aviv's third largest trading partner in Asia and trade in the high-tech sector, telecommunications, semiconductors, and medical equipment is substantial and growing. There are also Taiwanese foreign direct investment and venture capital projects in Israel.

China completely opposes Iran's nuclear effort, and will not tolerate an Iran with a nuclear weapon capability. China completely understands the implications a nuclear-armed Iran would pose for the region, including the likelihood that it would lead to an arms race. China believes, nevertheless, that the matter must be resolved diplomatically. It seemed the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” policy against Iran pushed the country into the arms of China and caused a significant strategic disadvantage to its long-term ally India.

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Page last modified: 03-07-2022 15:25:55 ZULU