Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Asia Watch: All the Trees in China

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Michael Shannon


China's pivotal role in the world economy can hardly be overstated. Yet the economic giant is increasingly looking to one of the world's smallest nations for those essential ingredients of innovation and expertise - Israel, of course. And like every other country, Israel is very keen to tap the Chinese economic behemoth.

A top-level Chinese delegation recently visited the Jewish state and, according to a UPI report, an Israeli official observed: "They don't care about the Palestinian issue. They want to talk about three things: Israeli technology, Israeli technology and Israeli technology."

Problems can arise when the technology in question has military uses. The US appropriately maintains stringent rules on what arms and components Israel, which as a strategic ally has greater access to US weapons systems than most client countries, is permitted to sell and to whom.

Nevertheless, Israel earned US$7.5 billion in 2012 from military exports alone, with the Asia-Pacific region as its biggest market, despite Israel's compliance with Wshington's demands in selling defence and dual-use technology to China and other countries in the region deemed to be problematic.

Outside the sensitive area of defence technology however, it's full-steam ahead. According to the Jerusalem Post, two-way trade between Israel and China has increased from US$50 million in 1992 to US$9.91 billion in 2012.

In a statement made on the occasion of the visit of China's Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, to Israel in December last year, Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu expressed his wish for continuing increased trade between the two nations. He continued, "Specifically the areas that we think of in addition to science and technology [are] water management and agriculture, green energy and health care and also enhancing our co-operation in global transportation.

In one such example, Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav will offer his expertise to China's booming high-tech hub of Shenzhen, Israel's Maariv newspaper reports. In little over 30 years, the Chinese city has transformed from a fishing village to a booming metropolis of 10.5 million people, becoming China's fastest growing city, and officials hope the Israeli mayor can help oversee its transformation.

Shenzhen's current Mayor, Xu Qin, reportedly received special permission from Beijing for the appointment of Mr. Yahav to consult on higher education and high-tech development, which reflects Haifa's reputation as Israel's technological and industrial powerhouse.

Rony Geven, an Israeli China analyst, told the Times of Israel that although Yahav might not have the final say on decisions in Shenzhen, the new role indicates "China's appreciation for Israeli achievements in science and technology".

The move signals ever closer ties between China and Israel, which has already advised Beijing on technology, agriculture, medicine and water management, Maariv reported.

On a similar theme, the Jerusalem Post reports Han Jun, the science and technology counsellor for the Chinese embassy in Israel, has announced that Efi Stenzler, the World Chairman of the environmental organisation KKL-JNF (better known here as the Jewish National Fund and famous for its large-scale tree-planting) will visit China later this year to meet with government officials.

Jun revealed that the KKL-JNF and the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries are advancing a current agreement into an actual "future agricultural technology transfer" to China for "anti-desert irrigation and forestry." He explained that the Chinese Government is making it priority to solve its problems with desertification and water shortages.

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