BEIJING — Israel and China signed three bilateral agreements Thursday, including one that will allow 20,000 Chinese workers to get work visas permitting them to work on Israeli construction sites.
With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touting Israel as a “perfect junior partner” to Beijing’s economy, officials here also agreed to accelerate the establishment of a Free Trade Zone between Israel and China, something that has been under discussion for several months.
In the presence of prime ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Li Keqiang, Economy and Industry Minister Eli Cohen and his Chinese counterpart signed the “agreement on recruitment of Chinese workers for temporary employment in specific sectors in Israel.”
“We all talked about this for a long time and now it’s going to be official, according to the customary ceremony in China,” Cohen told reporters in the Great Hall of the People, minutes before he signed the agreement. “We’re bringing 20,000 Chinese workers to the Israeli real estate markets, where [foreign workers] are still a great need.”
Also at the event, the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office, Eli Groner, signed a three-year action plan on Israel-China economical and technological cooperation; Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis signed a memorandum on the co-establishment of joint laboratories; and Israel’s ambassador to China Zvi Heifetz signed an amendment to civil air transportation regulations, allowing the future establishment of a direct line between Shanghai and Tel Aviv.
Moments before the agreements were signed, Netanyahu and his Chinese counterpart met for a meeting, in which they discussed regional issues such as the Iranian nuclear deal and Israeli-Palestinian conflict — but mostly boosting bilateral trade.
“We are in a technological age, on the one hand, and I think Israel and China can discuss many ways for technological cooperation, which I think seize the future,” Netanyahu said. “And at the same time there’s a great deal of convulsion in the world, including in our part of the word, and I’d like to have the opportunity to exchange views with you to see how we can cooperate together for the advancement of security, peace and stability — and prosperity.”
Li, the Chinese prime minister, said Israel is “a global leader in science and technology and innovation. China is ready to fully develop its cooperation with Israel.”
Netanyahu also proposed the establishment of a “fast track” for Israeli and Chinese investors, according to a readout of the meeting provided by the Prime Minister’s Office: “It was agreed to advance the idea, which could lead to many joint agreements.”
Earlier on Monday, Netanyahu met with the heads of some of China’s largest businesses, including online retailer Alibaba, search engine Baidu, computer maker Lenovo, beverage maker Wahaha and cinema and real estate conglomerate Wanda.
“I just met with 11 heads of the largest corporations in China,” he said after the meeting. “A large portion of them are investing in Israel and a large portion of them will invest in Israel. This means jobs, the development of businesses and a link to the major Chinese markets.
“This is good for the citizens of Israel and for the Israeli economy,” he said. “I told them that in today’s world there are several concentrations of technology, not many, and we are one of them… and Israel is open for business with China.”
The prime minister was joined at the meeting by Cohen, Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman.
After that meeting, Netanyahu met with an Israeli-Chinese business forum in Beijing, telling participants there that Israel wanted to be China’s “junior partner” in building up its economy.
While China has made great strides in developing its economy, Israel, too has “become one of the foremost centers of global innovation, a technological global power,” and a “hub of innovation,” he said.
In today’s world, “every single field of human endeavor is becoming technologized,” the prime minister continued, arguing that the distinction between high-tech and low-tech no longer made sense. “Everything is becoming high-tech.”
Therefore, the future belongs to countries that innovate and “upgrade” the products and services they offers to their citizens with new technologies.
“So here’s the particular marriage that I see between Israel and China,” Netanyahu said. “I think that there is an extraordinary capacity for China to assume its rightful place, as it’s doing, on the world stage.”
The Israeli delegation to the forum was made up of dozens of business people from a variety of industries and companies that either already operate in China or are interested in penetrating the Chinese market.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.