Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to go to China next month, in the first visit of an Israeli prime minister to the world’s most populous country since 2007.
The visit has not yet been officially confirmed, but an official in the Prime Minister’s Office told The Times of Israel Sunday that Netanyahu’s entourage will probably leave for China on May 5 and that talks in Beijing will focus on the Iranian nuclear program and bilateral trade.
Ehud Olmert traveled to China in 2007, and since Netanyahu succeeded him as prime minister he has several times tried to arrange a visit to the emerging superpower.
The planned trip follows two previous efforts to have Netanyahu visit China –both of which were canceled late in the preparation stage by Netanyahu. In 2010, Netanyahu opted instead to attend a meeting of the US-Jewish community, which offended the Chinese. In June 2012, after intensive diplomatic efforts to reschedule the trip, Netanyahu was again due in Beijing, but he canceled to focus on domestic politics at the height of a coalition crisis, anticipating that Israel was headed for early elections.
Jerusalem sees its relationship with Beijing, especially in trade and commerce but also politically — since China maintains good relations with Tehran — as crucially important. Last August, Netanyahu sent then-home front defense minister Matan Vilnai to be Israel’s ambassador in China, saying bilaterial ties were of “decisive economic and international significance.”
Sino-Israeli trade has increased from $8 million in 1990 to $5.5 billion in 2010. According to Foreign Policy, bilateral trade currently stands “at almost $10 billion” — and both sides are interested in intensifying trade relations even further.
Last year, Israel and China celebrated 20 years since the two nations officially established diplomatic relations.