In first, Herzog speaks to China’s Xi on Iran, Abraham Accords

Ahead of 30-year anniversary of ties, unprecedented phone call results in mutual invitations for presidents to visit each other’s countries

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Chinese President Xi Jinping applauds during the closing session of the National People's Congress in Beijing on Thursday, on March 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil)
Chinese President Xi Jinping applauds during the closing session of the National People's Congress in Beijing on Thursday, on March 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Sam McNeil)

In the first-ever phone conversation between the presidents of Israel and China, Isaac Herzog spoke with Xi Jinping on Wednesday, discussing Iran’s nuclear program, the Abraham Accords and bilateral ties.

According to Herzog’s spokesman, the president updated his Chinese counterpart on the progress of the Abraham Accords and stressed that the agreements between Israel and Arab countries must be supported by the international community.

He also focused on Iran, arguing that Tehran is undermining regional stability and must be stopped from acquiring nuclear weapons capability.

The leaders discussed Israel’s innovation partnership with China, the China-Israel Joint Committee for Innovation Cooperation. This mechanism was established in 2014, promoting collaboration across government ministries on innovation. A summit meeting is held each year to sign new agreements, and the next will be held in January.

Herzog and Xi invited each other on state visits to mark 30 years of relations.

Xi pointed out that Herzog’s father, Chaim Herzog, was the first Israeli president to visit China in 1992, when diplomatic ties were established.

President Isaac Herzog speaks at the Babi Yar massacre memorial in Kyiv, on October 6, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

According to the statement from Herzog’s office, the president expressed his “deep admiration” for China’s culture and people.

In October, Israel refrained from signing on to a joint statement at the United Nations last week that expressed concern over Beijing’s treatment of its Muslim Uighur minority. An Israeli diplomatic official told The Times of Israel that Israel made the decision in an attempt to placate China.

Earlier last month, an Israeli official told The Times of Israel that Jerusalem is willing to modify its relationship with China and has not shied away from criticizing Beijing’s human rights record in international forums. However, Israel, along with other allies, has been put off by United States requests to reject tenders from certain Chinese companies when those same firms are operating on American soil.

Xi and US President Joe Biden spoke for four hours earlier this week in a virtual meeting. Herzog is the first world leader Xi has publicly spoken to by phone since then.

This combination image shows US President Joe Biden in Washington, on November 6, 2021; and China’s President Xi Jinping in Brasília, Brazil, on November 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon; Eraldo Peres, File)

Amid a US-China trade war that has ebbed and flowed in recent years under both the Trump and Biden administrations, Israel and China have seen warming relations and more interest in Israeli innovations, especially in medical tech, robotics, food tech, and artificial intelligence.

Washington’s main concerns lie in potential dual-usage technologies, where various technologies would have both civilian and military applications. At the same time, Israel has regulations in place to prevent the sale of sensitive military-related technology to China (and other countries), following a 1990s deal in which Israel had to scrap the sale of advanced airborne radar systems to China amid fierce US opposition.

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