Thursday, May 02, 2013

Netanyahu's Visit To China Brings Opportunities For Both

The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) features an article by Yoram Evron on Netanyahu’s Visit to China: Opportunities beyond Iran.

During Netanyahu's visit, from May 6 through 10, he will have to walk a fine line in an effort to improve Israel's relations with China.

Evron writes:
If China assumes that Israel’s close relations with the United States will prevent Israel from strengthening its relationship with China, and at the same time, Beijing assesses that its dependence on Arab (and Iranian) oil will grow, the process of its increasing involvement in the Middle East is liable to bypass Israel.
By the same token, however, there is good reason for the Chinese to see Israel as an important potential ally with whom it is in their interest to further develop a friendship -- regardless of China's Arab ties.

After all:
  • The Arab Spring has demonstrated that Israel is an island of stability in the heart of a volatile region.
  • Israel is an important source of knowledge about events in a region which China lacks.
  • China sees Israel as a source of advanced technologies -- reason for China to promote its science, technology and energy ties with Israel
  • Strengthening its relationship with Jerusalem would enable China to get a foothold in the region -- allowing it to offset and and maybe even undermine, US influence
Celebrating 20 years of cooperation between the Israel Navy and the Chinese Navy
The Israel Navy congratulates the Chinese Navy on docking at the Haifa port.
On August 13, 2012, the Chinese vessels arrived at Israel in order to celebrate
 20 years of cooperation between the Israel Navy and the Chinese Navy

There are already signs of improving ties. Last year in July, it was reported Israel, China agree to build Eilat railway:
Israel and China today signed historic cooperation agreements to build the Eilat railway and future projects, including the inland canal port north of Eilat. Minister of Transport Yisrael Katz and China's Minister of Transport Li Shenglin signed the memorandum of understanding in Beijing.
Dr. Aaron Lerner notes that Israel would have a particular advantage in having China as a partner in such projects:
Any discussion of Israel-Chinese relations and the potential significance of Chinese participation in a Red Sea - Mediterranean rail that serves, among others, Chinese mother vessels from the Far East docking in Eilat and Chinese feeder vessels serving the Mediterranean and beyond from Ashdod can ask themselves two simple questions:
  1. What country in the world would bomb a transportation system with heavy Chinese participation/interest?
  2. What international body could initiate or impose sanctions impacting a transportation system with heavy Chinese participation/interest?
The bean counters who don't see the economic justification for a Red Sea - Mediterranean rail with Chinese involvement have failed to factor in the tremendous strategic value of the project.
I recall that during the Iran hostage crisis, people expressed a similar idea about the then-USSR -- that no country would be foolish enough to kidnap Russians. After the USSR had to leave Afghanistan, perhaps that image was softened a bit. The same could happen to China.

On a side note, there may be another issue with which China may empathize with Israel, in a way that the US does not. In a post in 2007 about China and Jerusalem, I quoted Eric Olander who wrote:
While a student at Beijing University, I once asked my professor why it was that everyone from the taxi driver on the streets of Changsha to the highest government official in Zhongnanhai was uniform in their determination on the Taiwan question, it was simply put to me: "Taiwan is our Jerusalem."
Who knows? There may be the basis for a growing relationship between Israel and China, one that  will allow Israel to be less dependent on the US.

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