Beijing has sought clarifications from Israel in the wake of warnings from top officials that a spate of major Chinese investments in the country pose a security risk and jeopardize ties with the US, Israeli television reported Tuesday.
According to Channel 13 news, the Chinese were particularly troubled by remarks by Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman, who the network quoted earlier this month warning of the security implications of China’s involvement in key infrastructure projects.
The report, which quoted an unnamed senior Israeli official, said China was also bothered by former Israeli ambassador to Beijing Matan Vilnai’s call to cancel a tender granted to a Chinese firm to manage operations at part of the Haifa part, as well as the possibility of establishing a mechanism to monitor foreign investments.
The official said the Chinese sought to clarify if the comments constituted a change in Israeli policy toward China and a cooling off of ties in the face of US pressure.
“The ties with the US are of course at the core of Israeli security and there is no intention or desire to harm them,” the official was quoted saying. “But we need to find the right way that will also serve our interests vis-a-vis China.”
Concerns in Israel over China’s influence come as the two countries have boosted commercial ties in recent years and Chinese firms have made major inroads in Israel, including the takeover of local food giant Tnuva in 2014 and deals to manage the key Haifa and Ashdod ports.
In its earlier report, Channel 13 said Argaman called for the Knesset to pass legislation to monitor foreign investment in Israel.
Several analysts and officials have recently expressed great concern over the deal that would put the Shanghai International Port Group in charge of Haifa port’s container terminal starting in 2021.
Allowing Beijing a foothold in so strategically important a location, close to an Israeli naval base, they fear, could compromise Israeli intelligence assets and even lead US military vessels to avoid docking at Haifa altogether.
Last week, a senior US energy official warned that unless Israel implements stringent screening procedures for Chinese investments, intelligence sharing between the two allies could be threatened.
During his visit to Israel earlier this month, US National Security Adviser John Bolton encouraged Israeli officials to take a tougher stance against Chinese electronics manufacturers ZTE and Huawei, a US official told Reuters.
According to the report, the administration does not want there to be any obstacles to block the sharing of sensitive information with the Israelis. The senior official singled out concerns about Chinese technology and investment at the port of Haifa.