tensions brewed along Israel’s northern border with Syria, Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu left the country for highly anticipated talks with leaders
of one of the world’s superpowers. To the surprise of many who closely follow Israeli
geopolitics, that superpower is not the United States, but China.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits a technology exhibition in Shanghai, China, on Monday, May 6, during his five-day visit to the country. Credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/FLASH90.
five-day trip to China, which began Sunday, presents Israel with numerous
economic and diplomatic opportunities during a time of growing global and
I think really obvious to any observer of what is going on in the world, these
past decades, that China’s importance in the world is growing from year to
year. And I think it’s probably correct to say at this stage that there are two
superpowers: the United States and China,” Moshe Arens, former Israeli Defense
Minister and Foreign Minister told JNS.org.
Netanyahu may have considered delaying the trip, just days
after Israel reportedly twice-bombed Syrian targets, allegedly storing
sophisticated Iranian weaponry on its way to the Hezbollah terrorist
organization in Lebanon.
Choosing to continue with the pre-scheduled visit may signal
that tensions are not expected to escalate further with Syria in the near-term.
But more importantly, the trip signals that Netanyahu did not wish to insult the
Chinese, after twice canceling trips to a country that is growing increasingly
important to Israel.
“It is important for us to have good, very good relations
with China, better relations than what we have today,” Arens said. “I think
considering China’s status in the world today, it is appropriate and I would
say probably natural for China to play a bigger role in Middle Eastern affairs
than it has in the past.”
“China has been a sleeping giant for a long time, but in the
last 20 years, as its economy began to grow, its relevance started to become
more and more important,” Carice Witte, Executive Director of SIGNAL
(Sino-Israel Global Network and Academic Leadership), an institute working to
advance Israel-China relations, told JNS.org.
The economic decline of Europe and the U.S., and changing
balances of diplomatic and military power, have necessitated that Israel
develop additional allies.
“In 2008 when the sub-prime debacle happened, Israeli
business people began to realize they need to spread their interests and
investment and their outreach beyond the U.S. and EU,” Witte said.
on Monday in Shanghai said, “I came to open doors for Israeli companies. We’re
interested in a small piece of a giant market.”
But economics are only one piece of the China-Israel
“Among several reasons, China is very significant to Israel
because it has a vote in the Security Council,” Witte told JNS.org.
has taken a growing interest in the Middle East, a region critical to China’s
economic stability. China has grown tremendously as a manufacturing power over
the past several decades. And one of the fuels powering that growth is oil.
“The two nations
providing most of China’s oil are Saudi Arabia and Iran. So the area of the
Middle East is core for China’s domestic policy, for China’s domestic
economy. Stability in the region is
essential,” Witte said.