Hoping to boost trade, PM heads to China with largest-ever business delegation
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Netanyahu is set to meet heads of companies 'with turnovers of tens of billions of dollars'

Hoping to boost trade, PM heads to China with largest-ever business delegation

Marking 25 years of relations with Beijing, Netanyahu to meet President Xi and other top officials, but focus of next week's three-day visit is on boosting commercial ties

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

China's Prime Minister Li Keqiang and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu review an honor guard at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on May 8, 2013. (Photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/FLASH90)
China's Prime Minister Li Keqiang and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu review an honor guard at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on May 8, 2013. (Photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/FLASH90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to take five ministers and the largest-ever Israeli business delegation to Beijing early next week on a three-day visit marking 25 years since Israel and China established diplomatic relations.

Netanyahu, who is leaving on Saturday night, is scheduled to meet with China’s three most senior officials: President Xi Jinping — who will host the Israeli leader for an official dinner — Prime Minister Li Keqiang and the head of the country’s parliament, Zhang Dejiang.

His last visit to China was in May 2013.

Besides the diplomatic meetings, Netanyahu will also lay a wreath at the Monument to the People’s Heroes in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. But the focus of the trip is to promote bilateral trade. A number of economic agreements seeking to help Israeli get better access to Chinese markets will be signed.

“I will also meet with the heads of the biggest corporations in China and today, when we say the biggest corporations in China, we sometimes say the biggest corporations in the world, or which are quickly becoming the biggest in the world,” Netanyahu said Thursday during the weekly cabinet meeting.

Chinese President Xi Jinping with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Beijing's Great Hall of the People in May 2013. (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)
Chinese President Xi Jinping with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People in May 2013. (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

Each of the Chinese businessmen Netanyahu is set to meet represents companies “with turnovers of tens of billions of dollars,” according to the Prime Minister’s Office. Among them is the leadership of Baidu, one of the largest web services companies in the world, which is headquartered in Beijing.

“We will continue the talks on establishing a free trade agreement between China and Israel and we will hold the third joint Israel-China innovation conference,” Netanyahu said. “Of course we are continuing to develop new markets and to open new markets for the Israeli economy.”

Benjamin Netanyahu (center) talks to China's Premier Li Keqiang (right) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, May 8, 2013 (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)
Benjamin Netanyahu (center) talks to China’s Premier Li Keqiang (right) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, May 8, 2013 (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

Jerusalem and Beijing launched negotiations over a free trade agreement last year, with another round of talks scheduled for July.

Some 90 Israeli businessmen from various industries will accompany Netanyahu’s delegation, making it the largest-ever business group to join a prime minister on a foreign trip. They will attend a business forum chaired by Netanyahu with over 500 invited guests.

“Like many other countries in the world — in the West, the East and even in our region — the Chinese are looking for Israeli ingenuity to help them with their security concerns, to feed their populations and to grow their economy,” said Eli Groner, the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office.

“It’s been the prime minister’s policy to open up markets for Israeli companies in the East. This trip is a large step toward enabling Israeli manufacturers and service providers generate more commercial opportunities,” Groner told The Times of Israel this week in his Jerusalem office. “This will not only benefit the Chinese but also help significantly grow Israel’s economy.”

Netanyahu will be accompanied to Beijing by Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Economy Minister Eli Cohen, Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel. They will sign with their Chinese counterparts a series of cooperation agreements in various fields such as aviation, education, science, health and environmental protection.

When the prime minister’s delegation returns to Israel on Wednesday, Groner, who co-chairs the China-Israel joint economic task force, will travel to Guangzhou to represent Israel at the BOAO Forum for Asia, one of the continent’s most important economic conferences.

Eli Groner, director-general of PM Netanyahu's office, arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting at PM Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem, August 16, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)
Eli Groner, director-general of PM Netanyahu’s office, in Jerusalem, August 16, 2015. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

“In terms of magnitude, it’s like Davos,” Groner said, referring to the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Switzerland. “People are familiar with Davos because the eyes of the word have been directed westward. But once people will start looking eastward they’ll recognize it’s one of the most important business forums in the world.”

China is Israel’s largest trading partner in Asia and third largest in the world, with bilateral trade volume surpassing $11 billion.

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