China-Israel ties bloom spectacularly
Updated: March 7, 2022 09:29 Xinhua

JERUSALEM — China and Israel have seen bilateral cooperation develop and expand to their great mutual benefit since they established diplomatic relations in 1992, even though they are about 6,437 kilometers away from each other.

The two countries announced the establishment of an innovative comprehensive partnership in 2017, which opened a new chapter in their friendly cooperation. From Belt and Road cooperation to technology and innovation exchanges, China-Israel relations have achieved fruitful cooperation in various fields over the years.

The new port in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, a transportation and industrial center of the country, deals with tons of cargo every day. Inaugurated in September 2021, the port is expected to decrease import costs and present an economic boon for Israel, where most international trade is handled via maritime routes.

The new port is an automated container port constructed primarily by Shanghai International Port (Group), which was franchised to run the port for 25 years. With an investment of $1.7 billion, the port has an annual handling capacity of 1.86 million 20-foot equivalent units.

"The new port opened a new gateway to the world," said Merav Michaeli, Israeli minister of transport and road safety, at the inauguration ceremony. The minister added the facility will accelerate Israel's economic development, increase exports and trade, bridge social gaps and lower prices.

Supported by the Israeli government, the Haifa new port is a microcosm of win-win cooperation between China and Israel under the Belt and Road Initiative, aiming at building a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient Silk Road trade routes.

Data released by the Israeli Ministry of Transport and Road Safety showed the country is now investing $4-5 billion each year to upgrade its transport infrastructure and is building airports, seaports, railroad tracks, roads and tunnels, which reflects the huge complementarity of the respective economic advantages between the two countries.

Chinese companies have been handling major infrastructure and transportation projects in Israel in recent years, including winning the tenders to build new ports in Haifa and the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, as well as building a key section of the Tel Aviv light rail system.

Chinese companies and investment have brought tangible benefits to Israel. So far, over 30 Chinese enterprises are operating in Israel, creating around 10,000 jobs for the country, according to figures from the Chinese embassy in Israel.

"The Belt and Road Initiative is a vision that reflects the ability of people to connect and work together across the world, to build bridges for all peoples and eventually a better future for all," said former Israeli president Reuven Rivlin.

During the past 30 years, innovation has been playing one of the leading roles in promoting China-Israel relations, especially after the establishment of their innovative comprehensive partnership in 2017.

"Israel is widely regarded as an innovation hub of the world, but the size of its economy is limited, while China is a giant economy with significant manufacturing power, which makes Israel and China the perfect match and highly complementary," said Qiang Hao, general manager of the China-Israel Innovation Hub (Shanghai).

As China is transforming the economy to focus on quality-oriented development, innovation cooperation between China and Israel has started to span fields like modern agriculture, medical devices, cybersecurity and smart cities.

Eying China's tremendous market, Israel is trying to form a long-term strategic relationship with the East Asian country. Supported by the two governments, more and more Israeli startups have obtained investment from China and access to its market.

The China-Israel Changzhou Innovation Park, the first experimental zone for innovation cooperation established by the two governments and inaugurated in 2015, is one example.

Located in East China's Jiangsu province, the park provides physical proximity for Israeli firms to get funds and collaborate with Chinese companies in industrial research and development, becoming a prototype project for innovative cooperation between the two countries.

"By the end of 2021, the park had gathered 155 Israeli-owned and China-Israeli joint ventures and facilitated 40 China-Israel scientific and technological cooperation projects," said Chen Shunming, deputy director of the management office of the park.

Another milestone in scientific cooperation between the two countries is the China-Israel Innovation Hub (Shanghai) inaugurated in 2019. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, some 70 companies were attracted to operate in the innovation hub with an outcome of 200 intellectual property rights, according to Qiang, general manager of the innovation hub.

Focusing on design innovation, Israeli company GIAYO Studio began operating in the park in August. "I think we bring something new-new designs, new experience and new products-to our customers," said Roy Grinfield, founder of GIAYO Studio.

"I think China is amazing at the moment. There are so many opportunities here. We're currently recruiting and trying to grow the team because we have a lot of requests from new clients. We have big plans for 2022," said Grinfield.

As President Xi Jinping said during a phone conversation with his Israeli counterpart, Isaac Herzog, in November, "Innovation has become a highlight and booster of bilateral relations."

"A decade ago, very little was happening between our two countries. In the subsequent years, relations grew significantly on almost every front, from academic exchanges and cooperation to scientific collaboration and joint research, from business investment to infrastructure development," said Carice Witte, founder and executive director of Sino-Israel Global Network & Academic Leadership, an Israeli policy organization that specializes in China-Israel relations.

Despite setbacks from the pandemic, the two countries have not stopped their efforts to enhance cooperation. Data from China Customs showed bilateral trade in goods between China and Israel reached $20.4 billion in the first 11 months of 2021, up 28.9 percent year-on-year.

China and Israel are also working on a bilateral free trade agreement, which will boost economic cooperation and bring more benefits to people and businesses from both sides. As the year 2022 marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic ties, people from the two countries are looking forward to further cooperation in all areas for mutual benefit.

"I believe that Israel must develop a rational, wise and close relationship with China, which is a great friend and a leading country with growing influence," said Yoav Kisch, a member of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

According to Chen, the China-Israel Changzhou Innovation Park will expand from 5 square kilometers to 72.8 sq km. "We will build the park into a model of innovative comprehensive partnership between the two countries and help apply the innovation resources and technological achievements from Israel to Chinese industries," Chen said.

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