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Israel-Japan Tech Relations Are Taking Flight

After burning on a low flame for years, trade and diplomacy between the two countries is turning hot
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, January 18, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, January 18, 2015. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Binational relations between Israel and Japan are entering a new, re-energized phase, with relations around technology, innovation and trade playing a significant role. This is extremely significant, considering that Japan has the 3rd largest economy in the world in terms of GDP.

This new phase is a result of many factors, including improved diplomatic relations between the countries over the past few years. But it’s also a result of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s focus on boosting Japan’s economy in response to years of stagnation. As part of that plan, Prime Minister Abe is focusing on Israel, in large part through investment in innovation and hi-tech.

The results: a flurry of country to country activity. Over the last 18 months, a number of official and business delegations from Israel and Japan have visited one another’s other’s countries.

In January 2015, Prime Minister Abe himself visited Israel – the first visit by a Japanese premier in almost a decade – representing a significant milestone in the relationship and reflecting a shift in perceptions in Japan towards Israel.

Prior to Prime Minnister Abe’s visit, Toshimitsu Motegi, Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry made his first-ever trip to Israel in which he signed an historic Industrial R&D agreement – only the 2nd such agreement Japan has ever signed with another country. The agreement serves as the basis for the new Japan-Israel R&D Cooperation program, which provides funding to collaborative R&D projects between Israeli and Japanese companies.

Japan also became party to two Israeli programs designed to boost cooperation in research and development. One is an existing program with India and China that was expanded to include Japan. This program, run by the Foreign Trade Administration at the Israel Ministry of Economy and Industry, helps Israeli companies set up marketing representation in target countries. The second program is the Chief Scientist’s  Global Enterprise Collaboration program that encourages multinational corporations to collaborate with local Israeli companies on research and development for new ideas and technologies. Five major Japanese companies are already participating, including Panasonic, NEC, RICOH, NTT and Terumo.

Here are just two examples of successful R&D cooperation between companies from both countries:

VocalZoom Systems, an Israeli startup, and FueTrek, a Japanese investment company, are working together to develop a unique optoelectronic microphone that substantially enhances a speaker’s voice under any noise conditions, enabling the detection of the speaker’s voice only.

Israel-based Radiflow and Japanese information technology giant NEC are developing a system that protects critical infrastructure by integrating cyber-security with physical security, providing full situational awareness and restricting access to critical assets.

Both pairs of companies are receiving funding support under the Japan-Israel R&D Cooperation program.

Japanese interest in innovative Israeli cyber-security technology continues to grow by leaps and bounds. In fact, a first-of-its-kind Japanese delegation was in attendance at the recent CyberTech Conference held annually in Tel Aviv. The delegation established a large pavilion at the conference to host all of the leading global Japanese companies that attended. Japan has become very interested in Israeli cyber-tech due to its plethora of leading financial institutions, and in the wake of the cyber-attack on its national pension servers. Cooperation between Japanese and Israeli cyber companies is already underway in advance of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.

Japanese interest in Israeli companies in other fields such as Internet-of-Things (IoT), robotics, and medical technologies is also growing at an impressive rate.

To help bolster these developing relations, the Israeli Ministry of Economy and Industry recently increased the number of its commercial attaches in Tokyo, boosted the exposure of Israeli companies to Japanese firms and vice-versa, and opened a new trade office in Osaka. A number of other Israeli government ministries are also focusing on academic exchanges, increased tourism between the countries and much more.

Israel and Japan are quite natural economic partners with shared qualities and values including an intense focus on intellectual achievements and education. Both offer islands of stability in their respective geographic neighborhoods. Israel and Japan also enjoy complementary strengths, especially with regard to advanced capabilities. Japan is home to some of the world’s leading multinational technology giants, while Israel enjoys a reputation as an innovation powerhouse – the “Startup Nation.” Real cooperation is the result, with both sides jointly developing new products, intellectual property and technological solutions.

Israel’s increasing economic focus on Asia will only serve to bolster trade growth with Japan. By boosting exports to Japan and cooperating with Japanese companies, Israel can continue to diversify its industrial reach in global markets, to the benefit of both countries, and the entire world.


About the Author
Mr. Hasson is the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Economy and Industry of Israel since January 2011. The Office of the Chief Scientist is the government entity in charge of the execution of government policy for support of industrial R&D. For ten years prior to his appointment, Mr. Hasson was a general partner at Gemini Israel Funds, one of Israel's top tier Venture Capital firms.
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