Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz traveled to China to deepen economic ties between the two countries. On Feb. 29 in Beijing, Chinese Finance Minister Xie Xuren signed an agreement for export of water technology to China for more than NIS 1 million, and on March 1 he lectured at an Israeli-Chinese agricultural conference.
This was not Steinitz’s first meeting in China; he was there in 2010 to sign economic agreements and inaugurate the Israeli pavilion at the Shanghai Expo, and hopes to return.
While the economic crisis in Europe is worsening and the United States continues to lick its wounds, China, the second-largest economy in the world, still races forward. According to the forecast of the International Monetary Fund, China is likely to overtake the American economy in four years. Currently, the Chinese economy is regarded as a life preserver for numerous countries around the globe, including Israel.
According to Steinitz, China is an important strategic goal for Israel. “An impressive deepening of Israeli-Chinese relations has taken place since I first visited here,” he said. “In 2009, our export to China was worth about a billion dollars; in 2011, it rose to about $2.5 billion, a jump of almost 140%. By 2014, our export will reach more than $5 billion a year.” In addition, “a no less important development is the sharp increase in investments of Chinese companies in Israel, including: the acquisition of Makhteshim-Agan by [China National Agrochemical Corporation, a subsidiary of China National Chemical Corporation] ChemChina, and the entrance of Lenovo [China's Research Organization], a company interested in establishing a research and development center in Israel. There has been a wave of Chinese investments, though I can’t talk about all of them yet.”
Another sign of deepening ties with China is the fact that about 200 Chinese researchers are planning to do their post-doctoral research in Israel — in fields of agriculture, medicine, hi-tech and economics — in academic institutions and company laboratories. They are also investigating the possibility of constructing railway tracks from Ashdod to Eilat, funded by the Chinese government. “This kind of railway would link the Indian-Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Ocean,” explains Steinitz. “It could replace the Suez Canal. Who knows what will transpire in Egypt in the coming years.” Another possible Chinese investment is the establishment of a facility in the Eilat port, for converting natural gas to liquid gas [LNG].
Something that was not brought up during the visit is the sensitive topic of security exports to China. This is almost nonexistent due to American opposition and the resultant limitations imposed by the Defense Ministry. “Although this is a sensitive topic,” said Steinitz, “it’s something we should still deal with, for example to achieve new understandings with the Americans. I am much in favor of coordination and cooperation with the United States; [we must take their interests into account] just as we ask them to take our interests into account. Of course, we respect their wishes with everything connected to the export of military equipment. However, with regards to fields that American companies [are permitted to] enter China—such as homeland security related equipment, there is no reason that Israeli companies should remain in the cold.”