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Israel and the Second Superpower

May 10, 2013 1:58 pm 10 comments

Benjamin Netanyahu with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at an official welcoming ceremony. Photo: Israel GPO.

On September 26th 2012 as he was on his way over to the United States to address the United Nations General Assembly, a picture was posted on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Facebook page.

The image showed Netanyahu travelling on an airplane with an aide, reviewing a pile of documents, on a table before him lies a pair of glasses, a cup of water and a book entitled ‘On China,’ by Henry Kissinger.

On December 19th, a day after the U.S. State Department accused Israel of engaging in a “pattern of provocative action” following the announcement of new building in East Jerusalem, Netanyahu ascended to the balcony of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel. Peering down at the Old City’s walls, he defiantly declared, “All Israeli governments have built in Jerusalem. We’re not going to change that.” Standing beside him was the Chinese Ambassador to the country, along with other Asian and South Pacific representatives.

This week Bibi embarked on a five day trip to the emerging superpower and is clearly investing a great deal in Israel-China relations. Historically, Israel’s relationship with China has been erratic and complicated. Of late, however, it is clear that there is a concerted effort on the part of both nations to move toward closer co-operation. For China the benefits are manifold, and for Israel, the relationship with China is among the most important diplomatic relationships to be cultivating for the following reasons.

1. China is free of anti-Semitic baggage. As Prime Minister Netanyahu made clear during his trip this week, “China is not only one of the few countries untainted by anti-Semitism but has supported the Jews.” Netanyahu also pointed to China’s welcoming of Jewish refugees from Europe preceding the Holocaust, saying, “even as most of the world closed its doors to the Jews 70 years ago, Shanghai was among the few places that opened its gates.” While many in European countries may seek to falsely paint Israel as some form of aggressor in a twisted effort to half forgive their historic atrocities committed against the Jews, Beijing arrives at the table with a clean slate. Without a historic agenda, the Chinese will be more open to appreciating Israel’s narrative.

2. China can be reasoned with. It is true that China is a major consumer of Iranian oil, has been an opponent of sanctions against the terror state and has also shamefully backed the Syrian regime at the United Nations. However, the country has been responsive to compelling arguments against these positions. In 2010 The New York Times suggested that Israel may have been instrumental in convincing the Chinese to back U.S. led sanctions on Iran. “In February, a high-level Israeli delegation traveled to Beijing to present alleged evidence of Iran’s atomic ambitions,” wrote the Times. “The Chinese didn’t seem too surprised by the evidence we showed them,” said an Israeli official, “but they really sat up in their chairs when we described what a pre-emptive attack would do to the region and on oil supplies they have come to depend on.”

“The episode demonstrates how Israel — a small country with limited influence on China — has found ways to engage an emerging superpower whose geopolitical heft is increasingly vital to the Jewish state,” the Times concluded.

This week China suggested that it would like to try its hand at Israel-Arab peacemaking. While unveiling a plan that pretty much mirrored international demands for territorial concessions from Israel, an important policy influencer in Israel has shared with me that the Chinese have been expressing an increasing interest in understanding Israel’s security concerns.

3. The Chinese have great respect for Jews. A popular Chinese cartoon that made the rounds earlier this year asked, “Why are Jews so smart?” and claimed in a different episode that “Chinese IQs are about even with Jewish people; together they’re the two smartest ethnicities in the U.S.” According to The New York Times, “there are over half a dozen centers in China dedicated to studying Judaism,” and an account on China’s largest microblog site, Sina Weibo, entitled “Revelations of Jewish People’s Wisdom,” has nearly one-and-a-half-million fans. The Times reporter relays that “there is a general feel-good attitude — bordering on fascination — toward Jews.”

“One friend who stayed at a large Beijing hotel near the Chabad community center told me with amazement how eager the Chinese staff were to help their Jewish guests. Seeing him sport a kippa they would rush to open doors, switch on lights or turn up the air-conditioning — knowing that Orthodox Jews are not allowed to perform these activities themselves on the Sabbath,” she adds anecdotally.

Within this existing framework of mutual respect, Netanyahu’s recently stated goal of increasing Israeli trade with China to $10 billion annually may just be the beginning.

For Israel, which faces many threats, not least among them international isolation, China’s willingness to engage presents a host of opportunities. If appropriately developed, it is a relationship that may well shape the future of Israel’s international diplomatic standing.

10 Comments

  • Nicholas Ng

    Got linked to your page from another article. I’m a Malaysian Chinese, 4rd generation Christian, and yea, got to agree with E.S. Lombard that we generally don’t carry the Christ killer myth. Well, at least i personally believe while your history tells ppl who and what you are, it’s your actions that defines you today.

    It’s the ‘clean slate’ agenda this Sino-Judeo partnership will flourish I would presume. It certainly rare to see countries with no significant historic mileage come together in a big way.

  • Nadene van Staden

    What David said is true,the Muslims have never and will never make a difference anywhere.The Jews changed the desert into a fertile land when they reclamed it.the Old Testament refers to arabs as wild asses,one against another .Pamela what you said is true.Seek the truth.

  • jerry hersch

    I have family in Singapore,Thailand,China,Korea and the Philippines in all Jews are highly regarded.
    This year marks the 70th year of our families involvement with east Asia..my son has been there continuously for 14 years.
    Everywhere there is a healthy curiosity about Jews and Judaism.

  • jerry hersch

    There are many influences working on China
    Not the least of which is terrorism in their far western areas(China has 25-30 million Moslems.
    The vast population of Overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia has had generations of contact with both their Motherland and the more moderate forms of Islam generally seen in Indonesia and Malaysia -two predominantly Moslem nations.
    Malaysia,60% Moslem,in the non-Peninsula areas of Sarawak and Sabah perhaps a minority…the two areas that werethe deciding factor in this weeks elections.
    Indonesiaperhaps 80% Moslem..but if youu look at a map- the eastern 1/3 is not predominantly Moslem -despite recent Javan influxes.
    The Chinese have historically been the Indonesian scapegoat..subject to expulsions,mass killings, kristallnachts,accusations of ill-gained wealth, influence over policy trade media,societal ghettoization
    accusation that are not that far from blood libels,
    This has also been the case in parts of Malaysia.
    The Chinese are well acquainted with the story of the Jews–First hand.
    When you combine this with the 100 million plus mainland Chinese Christians with some religious knowledge of Jews..and traditional Chinese virtues that are akin to those of Judaism.
    Israels technology,strategic location,the world wide contacts of the Jewish business community and now possibly energy- in a stable environment is a draw for Chinese who appreciate long term planning and investment.
    My Mishpucha..nothing like a sedar in Southeast Asia.

    https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.404766976210148.92336.100000305461445&type=3#!/photo.php?fbid=404766996210146&set=a.404766976210148.92336.100000305461445&type=3&theater
    My sons Tagalog,Chinese and Korean are probably better than his English

  • Vivienne Leijonhufvud

    Thank you Dovid Efune, for this re-assuring piece of Journalism. My comment on the Chinese being ‘dumb’ is based on the attitude of one of the Ministers (female) BN met on arrival, that BN was kept hanging around while he had a crisis in Syria on his hands. BN kept cool, statesman, Kissinger is a great Statesman have his book.

    Earlier this month when I heard about BN heading for China if figured Mr. BN is one very smart leader. As it has been said China is a sleeping Giant. Twenty years ago, around dinner tables, with the elite you might say, China came into the conversation. I was astounded to hear how naive my fellow dinner guest were! The US I gather are in no position to pay back loans to China, but takes Chinese goods in exchange for debts? I could be wrong, is this correct?

    Israel needs China behind her, if BN can completely win China’s confidence, the rest of us are on the way to Peace in the Middle East. Living in shambolic Europe, doing favors for Muslims on a daily basis,it isn’t unsurprising Europe isn’t backing Israel. Europe might just wake up when China, makes moves.

    Europe cannot deal with her ensuing muslim problem? Muslims are responsible for the rise in anti-semitism. The UK is a prime example, she can no longer control the huge muslim communities, in Birmingham, Sheffield, London, Bradford, Oxford! Sharia Law is on the increase, women and girls are abused on a daily basis. Many documentaries have tried to inform public opinion and government,to no avail. Now here in Ireland concessions have been made to allow muslims to bury their dead without coffins,or lime to hasten disintegration. Ireland is a backward Catholic community, unable to handle her debt levels! So what does Ireland think muslims can do for her? I deliberately spell muslim in lower case.

    • Pamela Deane Chester

      You, sir, are CORRECT! We travel often to the UK. We love the people and their wonderful villages. But, alas, it is already too late for them. I think it was hastened by their Bishop of Canterbury and his liberal catering to the Muslims for many years. I have much respect for “Bibi” and I believe his decisions will affect the world.

  • The Chinese are smarter than the Soviets who like the Nazi ran off their most intelligent scientist, doctors and engineers for more tolerate nations to benefit from. The Chinese were innovators thousands of years ago and today they have the common sense to see the difference in the land that “Mohammad Alla Akbah” had for 2,000 years compared to what the Jews have done to it after they reclaimed it 65 years ago.

  • I can’t wait to see all the “Dollar store” junk for sale that is labeled “Made In Israel”.

    Tha’s whut the label says!

    (Yeah….right!!)

  • E.S.Lombard

    Our problems with the Muslim world in particular and the Western world in general stem from a resentment of our ambition and our successes. It appears that the Chinese seem to admire us for those characteristics. Whatever spread of Christianity has developed in China, it apparently doesn’t carry with it the burden of “Christ killer” mythology.

  • Pamela Deane Chester

    Read the last chapter of the Bible as history! Bibi does. The American Jews are very liberal but should KNOW through Hashem’s Wisdom, if they seek it, there is no peace until your Messiah returns.
    Do not fall prey to “peace plans” and worse than that, do not help formulate it. Seek The Truth.

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