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Israel-China ties reach 30 years and counting – while American concerns over the relationship grow

Biden administration has warned Israel, and other allies in the Middle East, that China is not “interested in their security needs or in regional stability”

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (second from left) speaks at the fifth Israel-China Joint Committee on Innovation meeting, January 24, 2022. (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

While Israel and China are celebrating 30 years of diplomatic relations and cooperation Monday, the United States has been expressing concern for these burgeoning ties.

CIA director Bill Burns said as much to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in an August meeting where he expressed concerns about Chinese investments in Israel, particularly in the tech sector and in Israeli infrastructure. 

On Sept. 1, Israel officially opened a new port terminal in Haifa Bay that will be run by Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG), a Chinese majority state-owned company, for the next 25 years. 

The U.S. has warned Israel that the Haifa Bay arrangement could damage U.S.-Israeli security cooperation, as it may mean that U.S. Navy ships will refrain from docking at the adjacent Israeli naval base for fear of Chinese spying. China is currently building the metro light rail in Tel Aviv, a new port in Ashdod and digging tunnels in Haifa. 

China has invested heavily in Israel in recent years, especially in technology.  

Israel’s deepening engagement with China in tech and infrastructure runs counter to U.S. interests. 

The Biden administration has warned Israel, and other allies in the Middle East, that China is not “interested in their security needs or in regional stability, and that further Chinese involvement will eventually compromise their sovereignty and pose a risk to their security relationships with the U.S.,” according to Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East Dana Stroul who testified before the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee for the Middle East in August.

China has been working to strengthen its strategic position in the Middle East, deepening ties with countries in the region, such as Iran, with which it entered a 25-year strategic cooperation agreement in March. China and Iran recently began to implement the agreement, according to which Iran will receive $400 billion worth of Chinese investments over the next 25 years. The agreement, however, also includes military cooperation and intelligence sharing, which has raised concern for Israel’s security establishment.  

“One of the most worrying clauses in the agreement between Iran and China is the intelligence sharing,” Amos Yadlin, Israel’s former IDF chief of military intelligence and head of the Institute for National Security Studies, has warned

The fifth meeting of the Israel-China Joint Committee for Innovation was held virtually and celebrated 30 years of diplomatic relations. Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan met with Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Science and Technology Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen and Energy Minister Karin Elharrar.

“The Chinese, like the Israelis, are not afraid of new ideas,” Lapid said at the meeting. “There is a built-in curiosity at the national level in both of our nations. Give us a new and exciting idea, and we will gather around it, speak about it enthusiastically, [and] immediately check where it comes from and how to improve it.”

The Joint Committee for Innovation was established in 2014 by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology for the purpose of “deepening innovation collaboration” between the two countries at the government level and includes government ministries and agencies from both sides. 

At the meeting, Israel and China signed a new agreement for cooperation and dialogue for the next three years.

 “We are looking forward to further discuss on the ways to enhance the existing cooperation in agriculture,” Yakov Poleg, senior deputy director-deneral for Foreign Relations and International Cooperation, said. “And we encourage scientific research institutions and enterprises on both sides to set up direct links and promote innovative technologies and practices for the benefit of both nations.” 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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