Israel and China enter talks over establishing free-trade zone

Visiting Jerusalem, Vice Premier Liu Jindong invites Israeli entrepreneurs to China; PM says cooperation will ‘astonish the world’

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

President Rivlin with Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong in Jerusalem, March 29, 2016 (Mark Neiman/GPO)
President Rivlin with Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong in Jerusalem, March 29, 2016 (Mark Neiman/GPO)

China and Israel agreed to enter negotiations over the establishment of a free-trade zone, Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong announced Tuesday in Jerusalem.

Liu is currently visiting Israel to co-host the second meeting of the China-Israel Joint Committee on Innovation Cooperation.

“China is Israel’s third-biggest trading partner and I believe there is great potential,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, standing next to Liu at the event’s launch in the Foreign Ministry. “China agreeing to start negotiations over a free-trade agreement is a significant statement and we’re ready to start immediately.”

Jerusalem and Beijing are working together on a wide range of fields, though especially in the area of innovation, the prime minister said, predicting that in less than a decade the Sino-Israeli cooperation will “astonish the world.”

Liu said her visit to Israel was mainly focused on the future. “The Chinese economy has entered a new stage. We’re under pressure but we are still the engine of the global economy.”

Over the next five years, Beijing aims to strengthen transportation infrastructure, telecommunications and nuclear technology,” she explained. “Our hope that more Israeli entrepreneurs will undertake projects in China.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Liu met with President Reuven Rivlin. “China is playing a great role and you have a lot of influence in the Middle East, and while we may from time to time not agree on everything, we are pleased to strengthen the relationship and the understanding between us,” Rivlin said.

The Chinese vice premier responded by saying her government has always attached “great importance” to the bilateral relationship, “and we appreciate your contribution to the friendship between our nations.”

During her visit to Israel she intends to sign agreements on education, culture, science and technology, healthcare, and a range of other fields. “Israel is an important country in the Middle East with its own distinct features and China takes Israel very seriously,” she said.

In the framework of Tuesday’s innovation conference, Israel and China were set to sign a 10-year multiple entry visa agreement this week, making the Jewish state only the third country to have such an arrangement with Beijing.

“So far, China has 10-year multiple entry visa agreements only with the US and with Canada, so the agreement to be signed this week is a tremendous achievement for Israeli diplomacy,” said Hagai Shagrir, the director of the Foreign Ministry’s Northeast Asia department.

The deal, to be signed by Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely and her Chinese counterpart, will allow Israeli businesspeople and tourists to enter China multiple times with the same visa, which will be valid for a decade. The same will apply for Chinese citizens visiting Israel, an arrangement which Jerusalem hopes will help increase tourism.

“This will dramatically change the travel habits of of both peoples,” Shagrir said. Currently, about 30,000 Chinese citizens visit Israel each year, a number Israel hopes to raise to 100,000 within less than three years, Shagrir said.

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