Israel and China have signed seven academic cooperation agreements with Chinese universities, it was announced Tuesday.
The announcement comes as Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong is visiting Israel to co-host the second meeting of the China-Israel Joint Committee on Innovation Cooperation.
The agreements include the establishment of joint Israeli-Chinese study institutes, as well as investments in student exchange programs.
According to Israel Radio, the program is expected to cost some NIS 260 million ($68 million) over nine years.
Israel’s Council for Higher Education hopes to raise the number of Chinese students studying in Israel from the current figure of some 800 to 3,000 in five years’ time.
During her visit, Liu revealed that China and Israel had agreed to enter negotiations over the establishment of a free-trade zone.
“China is Israel’s third-biggest trading partner and I believe there is great potential,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, standing next to Liu at the launch of the committee meeting in the Foreign Ministry’s headquarters in Jerusalem.
“China agreeing to start negotiations over a free-trade agreement is a significant statement and we’re ready to start immediately.”
Jerusalem and Beijing are working together on a wide range of fields, though especially in the area of innovation, the prime minister said, predicting that in less than a decade, the results of this Sino-Israeli cooperation will “astonish the world.”
Liu said her visit to Israel was mainly focused on the future. “The Chinese economy has entered a new stage. We’re under pressure but we are still the engine of the global economy.”
Over the next five years, Beijing aims to strengthen transportation infrastructure, telecommunications and nuclear technology,” she explained. “Our hope is that more Israeli entrepreneurs will undertake projects in China.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Liu met with President Reuven Rivlin. “China is playing a great role and you have a lot of influence in the Middle East, and while we may from time to time not agree on everything, we are pleased to strengthen the relationship and the understanding between us,” Rivlin said.
The Chinese vice premier responded by saying her government has always attached “great importance” to the bilateral relationship, “and we appreciate your contribution to the friendship between our nations.”
During her visit to Israel, Liu is expected to sign agreements that reach beyond trade and higher education, and will include cultural exchange, scientific and technological cooperation and healthcare.
“Israel is an important country in the Middle East with its own distinct features and China takes Israel very seriously,” she said.
In the framework of Tuesday’s innovation conference, Israel and China were set to sign a 10-year multiple entry visa agreement this week, making the Jewish state only the third country to have such an arrangement with Beijing.
“So far, China has 10-year multiple entry visa agreements only with the US and with Canada, so the agreement to be signed this week is a tremendous achievement for Israeli diplomacy,” said Hagai Shagrir, the director of the Foreign Ministry’s Northeast Asia department.
The deal, to be signed by Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely and her Chinese counterpart, will allow Israeli businesspeople and tourists to enter China multiple times with the same visa, which will be valid for a decade. The same will apply for Chinese citizens visiting Israel, an arrangement which Jerusalem hopes will help increase tourism.
“This will dramatically change the travel habits of of both peoples,” Shagrir said. Currently, about 30,000 Chinese citizens visit Israel each year, a number Israel hopes to raise to 100,000 within less than three years, Shagrir said.