On January 24, it marked the thirtieth anniversary of the establishment of official relations between Israel and the People’s Republic of China. It was preceded by failed attempts by Israel in the early years after it established contact with Mao Zedong’s regime, which seized power in China in 1949. In 1992, after the dissolution of the Soviet empire and after most Arab countries improved their relations with Israel and agreed to participate in the Madrid Conference China agreed to recognize Israel and establish official relations with it.
Curiosity and a mutual desire to know the other party and derive benefit from its advantages, two things that characterized the early years. China has sought to exploit the Israeli knowledge and experience in the fields of security and agriculture, and cooperation in these areas has prompted the establishment of the two embassies. As for the opportunity to break into a super market of one billion people, Israel fascinated. I was on the team that managed the negotiations on the first trade agreement between the two countries. We finished it in three days. Negotiations on a free trade agreement between the two countries have continued for years, and may end this year.
Relations cooled the issue of the “Falcon” – the exploration plane that China bought from Israel. Under pressure and threats from the United States, Israel was forced to cancel the deal and pay compensation to China, thus closing the Chinese market to the Israeli security industry. In addition, Beijing, which saw Israel as a bridge to the centers of political influence in Washington, discovered the limitations of Jewish-Israeli influence.
China’s storming into the forefront of the world economy and its leader Xi Jinping’s aspiration to reach economic, technological and military parity with the United States, the strategic opponent, until the middle of the twenty-first century – raises the value of Israel in the eyes of China because of the strength of modernity in it. On the other hand, Israel, the country of creation, searched for external sources of financing, and China, with its largest currency balances in the world and an impressive number of “multi-billionaires”, became a desired target. The crown jewel in relations between Israel and China was the Modernity Conference that took place before the outbreak of Corona in Jerusalem, chaired by the Vice President of China and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Chinese, who are keen to define their relations with the countries of the world, have upgraded their relations with Israel to a “comprehensive modernity partnership.” In parallel, major Chinese infrastructure companies discovered that Israel was in a rapid process of renovating and expanding infrastructure, and began winning bids for ports, roads, and trains. The expansion of economic relations has led to a significant increase in the number of flights between Israel and Chinese cities.
The expansion of relations between Israel and China has slowed down in recent years due to the intensification of the conflict between China and the United States, which occurred during the term of President Obama. In recent years, the US administration began to exercise sanctions against China, but to put pressure on its partners was a hard-line nomination for economic ties with China. The Sino-American competition will not fade in the coming years, and Israel will be forced to carefully follow its steps in managing the complex relations with China. Difficulties may arise in the political sphere as well. And China has steadfastly supported anti-Israel bills in international organizations, and it supports the demands of the Palestinians, but on the other hand, it has not taken practical steps in the framework of bilateral relations to express its criticism of Israel. For its part, Israel abstained from voting in international forums on resolutions expressing criticism against China.
The rapprochement between China and Iran, the Chinese effort to strengthen relations with the Gulf states and other Arab countries, and the American pressure to take critical positions towards China, regarding China’s economic power, all call for a rational management of risks and opportunities in the second generation after the establishment of relations.