US loses by blocking Sino-Israeli ties

US loses by blocking Sino-Israeli ties

Global Times 2012-10-25

By Alex Pevzner

Israel and China are celebrating the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations. Israel is increasingly looking east and has recently taken a series of steps to boost its ties with China.
Israel-China 20th diplomatic relations anniversary commemorative stamp ceremony

But what should Israel do about the concerns of its closest ally, the US? For the past six decades, the Americans have moved to prevent Israel from moving too close to China.

Israel is generally considered to be firmly in the US camp when it comes to international relations. With the frequency and the intensity of US-Israel dialogue, sometimes it’s easy to forget that Israel wasn’t always tied to the West and the US. The founding fathers of modern Israel sought partners wherever they could and weren’t ideologically fixated on a certain direction.

For example, faced with Arab hostility in the early days of the state, Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion and foreign minister Moshe Sharett actively explored the non-Arab axis in the Middle East, Iran, Turkey, and the Kurds.

Nor was Israel’s attention limited to the Middle East or the West. Shortly after the end of Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, Israel recognized the PRC on January 9, 1950, the first country in the Middle East and the seventh non-communist country to recognize new China.

Unlike many Western countries, Israel never recognized the Kuomintang government in Taipei.

But while Israel recognized the PRC 28 years before the US did, China and Israel established relations only in 1992. The main reason for the delay was US interference, as the US position was influenced by the emerging Cold War, the “loss of China” theory, and the eruption of the Korean War (1950-53).

Many Chinese remember that Israel was forced in 2000 to cancel a deal to supply China with the Phalcon surveillance system because of US pressure, but not many know that the US had already blocked closer Sino-Israeli ties in the early 1950s.

The US pressure delayed the early development of Israel-China ties, at the same time as China began to realize the potential of the Arab and Muslim world.

Today, Israel wants to advance its ties with China, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called on his ministers to visit China in order to strengthen economic ties between the two countries.

The Israeli interest is clear. Israel wants to win new partners and markets, and gain China’s ear on the Iranian nuclear threat.

In addition to its technology and innovation, Israel is bringing to the table large new gas finds that can help China diversify its energy suppliers. The gas finds have already piqued Russia’s interest so much that Russian President Vladimir Putin visited both China and Israel shortly after his inauguration.

China wants stability in the Middle East, secure energy supplies, and to further its global position at a time of tension with its neighbors, particularly in the South China Sea.

China also enjoys good ties with the Arab and Muslim world, and Chinese interests in the Middle East at least partly coincide with US interests if both sides can agree on ensuring fair and stable access to energy sources.

China has repeatedly expressed its opposition to Iran developing nuclear weapons and has warned Iran against closing the Strait of Hormuz. Interestingly enough, perhaps China’s two most stable diplomatic partners in the Middle East are Iran and Israel.

Therefore, the time is ripe for China and Israel to advance their relationship even further, even in the face of possible US opposition.

Although the US remains vigilant on military relations development between Israel and China, both sides have been conducting fruitful cooperation.

For example, Israel helped the Chinese army to train anti-terrorist armed police, and in August Chinese naval vessels concluded the first-ever visit to the Israeli navy port. This cooperation did not harm the fundamental interests of the US, and US-Israel relations remain firm as before.

Israel’s good relations with the US can actually be an asset for China. China can use the US-Israel-China triangle to improve its own relations with the US, as China-US ties will remain the most important bilateral relationship in the world in the foreseeable future.

Israel is facing hard choices but willing to take the chance. Is China ready?


The author is former director of the China program at The Israel Project.