Since the early 2000s, Israel and China’s relationship has been blossoming, however, as the relationship continues to grow there are some obstacles which could stunt future growth.
China wants to build a relationship with Israel in order to attain four main policy goals, those being: (1) the development of indigenous innovation for economic and military modernisation; (2) to use Israeli defense policy to advance its own military and domestic security capabilities; (3) to undermine US power in the Middle Eastern region; and (4) to build on its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). What Israel has to gain is an expansion in economic and strategic ties with a major global economic power and a chance to diversify its export markets, especially during a time when Europe – one of its main trading partners – is economically stagnating.
A relationship between Israel and China should be highly encouraged. It is an opportunity for Israel to really improve its status in the global economy and build a partnership with a growing superpower, however, there are obstacles to this relationship, those primarily being: the US reaction to China and Israel’s relationship and China’s relationship with the Middle East — mainly Iran — vs Israel’s relationship with India, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam.
Israel and China’s main relationship is its economic one. In 1992, Chinese goods exports to Israel was reported to be $12.8 million and in 2016 this figure massively increased to $8 billion, showing that trade between the two countries is booming. Moreover, recently a Chinese company won a 25-year contract to operate a new container terminal in the port of Haifa near the government-owned naval port. In addition, at Israel’s other port and naval base in Ashdod, another state-owned Chinese company is developing a port near Israel’s national electricity company and refineries. Consequently, whilst this decision will bring major economic benefits to Israel it must be argued that this compromises its relationship with the United States. This is due to the fact that China operating these ports is viewed as a risk for US Navy operations and is seen by the US as a major threat. The US views China as threatening its superpower status and China inserting its influence in a key US ally in the Middle East is bound to negatively affect the Israeli-US relationship, a relationship Israel should maintain.
Subsequently, a major roadblock to Israel and China’s blooming relationship is Iran and India. China and Iran have a good defense relationship, with China supplying hundreds of millions of dollars of weapons to Iran since 2000 and actively cooperating with Tehran’s missile and nuclear program. Likewise, Israel has a growing arm-sales relationship with India, exampled by the fact that in 2017 India was the greatest market for Israeli arms, with $715 million in distributionof sales. As India is a rival to China in the Indo-Pacific region and Iran is an adversary to Israel, these relationships have the ability to negatively affect the growing China and Israel relationship.
As a result, I argue that the China-Israel relationship is a needed one but has a number of roadblocks in its path. The China-Israel relationship has the ability to reap major benefits for both sides, however, at this current stage, it is primarily increasing China’s strategic stronghold in the region. For both countries, clear boundaries to its relationship need to be set, not only to protect their own interests but also to reassure their allies.