Israel, China to open $300 million research center

400 Chinese business and government officials in Israel for a week of conferences, summits and business deals

Tel Aviv University president Prof. Joseph Klafter (R) and Professor Chen Jining, president of Tsinghua University at Monday's announcement (Photo credit: Koby Kantor)
Tel Aviv University president Prof. Joseph Klafter (R) and Professor Chen Jining, president of Tsinghua University at Monday's announcement (Photo credit: Koby Kantor)

Tel Aviv University announced on Monday a partnership with Beijing’s Tsinghua University to invest $300 million to establish the XIN Research Center, intended to research early-stage and mature technologies in biotech, solar energy, water and environmental technologies. TAU officials say they hope the center will cement ties between the two countries and create opportunities for tech advancement in both countries.

The agreement establishing the institution is scheduled to be signed Tuesday by Prof. Joseph Klafter, president of TAU, and government and academic officials from China. It is one of a number of Israel-China business events taking place this week, as hundreds of Chinese government and business officials arrived in Israel.

They are seeking Israeli technology to help China “upgrade” its society, said Shangyan Fen, head of strategic investment and development at China Everbright Ltd. and a managing director in Catalyst-CEL, a joint Israel-China investment fund that helps Israeli companies develop their technology for the Chinese market. “China has come to the point where people realize that change needs to occur if we are to continue to thrive” and is looking to Israel to help execute that change, she said.

The XIN Research Center fits the bill, according to Klafter. “This is an exceptionally important project,” he said. “This center will open new horizons for Israeli society,” advancing technology in both countries and helping provide Israel with new business opportunities.

Both governments provided funding for the project, a TAU spokesperson said, but most of the money came from private sources in both countries. The center should evolve into one of the biggest academic R&D centers in either country, with the institutions focusing on both early-stage research and projects that can be readied for the market.

Klafter will sign the final agreement establishing the center together with Madame Liu Yandong, vice premier of the People’s Republic of China, and Prof. Chen Jining, president of Tsinghua University. The center will be established gradually over the next year, with 14 Chinese and seven Israeli students conducting research projects in the first phase.

In September 2013, TAU and Tsinghua signed a memorandum of understanding to establish the XIN Center, which will “pursue strategic cooperation in research and teaching and serve as an international hub for scientific and technical innovation,” TAU said. XIN (which means “new” in Chinese) “will advance interdisciplinary research, provide optimal conditions for creativity and promote activity in fields that can truly impact society in both countries and the entire world,” the Israeli university said.

The signing Tuesday is part of what some in the tech industry have been calling “China Week” in Israel. No fewer than 400 Chinese government and business officials landed in Israel Sunday, preparing to participate in a series of business forums and seminars. Two forums — one at IBM’s Petah Tikva office, and one at the Hilton Hotel in Tel Aviv, organized respectively by investment firm Upround Ventures and international investment firm Cukierman and Co. — sponsored sessions for investors from China and Hong Kong.

Dozens of government officials and business executives are to meet Israeli investors and government officials on Tuesday at the first-ever Israel-China Economic Summit, hosted by the Israel China Interflow Association (ICIA) and the Knesset Hi-tech Caucus. All of them will later Tuesday and on Wednesday participate in the Tel Aviv MIXiii 2014 conference, the largest tech event to be held in Israel this year, where Avi Hasson, chief scientist of Israel’s Economy Ministry, will discuss tech and sign a trade agreement with Zhixue Wang, China’s vice minister for technology and innovation.

The Chinese are here for good reason, said Fen. “Several decades ago, China established its ‘made in China’ model, becoming manufacturer to the world,” Fen said. “But this has come at a cost, with many environmental and social problems ensuing.” China, she said, is more vulnerable than most countries to recessions, with customers evaporating when times are tougher.

It’s no way to run a modern economy, said Fen. “We need to upgrade China’s industrial base and deploy structural changes, move to a high-tech economy and improve manufacturing systems in order to reduce pollution.” Israel, she said, is the high-tech role model China seeks to emulate. “Israel has the technology that China needs to move ahead, so it’s no wonder that we come to do business with Israel.”

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