Caution follows recent diplomatic row over spying accusation

Israeli diplomats told not to meet Taiwan officials to avoid angering China – report

Official cites increasing sensitivity of China-Taiwan issue and growing tensions between Beijing and Washington; diplomat denies instruction amounts to policy change

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Chinese President Xi Jinping raises his glass and proposes a toast during the welcome banquet for visiting leaders attending the Belt and Road Forum at the Great Hall of the People, April 26, 2019. (Nicolas Asfouri/Pool Photo via AP)
Chinese President Xi Jinping raises his glass and proposes a toast during the welcome banquet for visiting leaders attending the Belt and Road Forum at the Great Hall of the People, April 26, 2019. (Nicolas Asfouri/Pool Photo via AP)

In an apparent attempt to avoid a diplomatic flare-ups with China, Israel’s Foreign Ministry has reportedly instructed its representatives around the world to refrain from inviting Taiwanese diplomats to official events or participating in events organized by Taiwanese representatives.

Specifically, an urgent message sent out by senior diplomatic official Hagai Shagrir warned Israeli diplomats against inviting their Taiwanese counterparts to events recently held as part of Israel’s 74th Independence Day or attending events surrounding Taiwan’s Independence Day that is celebrated in October, the Kan public broadcaster reported Monday.

Citing the widely circulating letter, the report noted the sensitivity surrounding China and Taiwan, which Beijing claims is a rogue province, and the increasing concern that the Communist mainland could take military action against the democratic East Asian island.

China has stepped up its military provocations against Taiwan in recent years, aimed at intimidating it into accepting Beijing’s demands that it unify with the mainland. In October last year, for example, the Chinese Air Force conducted 150 flights over Taiwan within a few days in a show of force.

The Israeli document clarified that representatives should not hold official meetings with Taiwanese diplomats in public or in Israeli embassies or any other official facilities.

The Kan report cited a diplomatic official who said the document did not constitute a change to Israel’s official policy but was instead meant as a clarification of existing directives.

In this undated file photo released by the Taiwan Ministry of Defense, a Chinese PLA J-16 fighter jet flies in an undisclosed location (Taiwan Ministry of Defense via AP, File)

The document also noted the growing tensions between China and the United States.

Officially, Israel and the United States do not recognize Taiwan’s independence. Still, both countries have maintained a positive relationship with Taiwan.

In fact, US President Joe Biden said on Monday that the US would intervene militarily if China were to invade Taiwan. The obligation to protect Taiwan, Biden said, is “even stronger” after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Biden’s comments marked one of the most forceful US presidential statements in support of self-governing in decades and are likely to draw a sharp response from Beijing.

A White House official said, however, that Biden’s comments did not reflect a policy shift.

Biden said it is his “expectation” that China would not try to seize Taiwan by force, but he said that assessment “depends upon just how strong the world makes clear that that kind of action is going to result in long-term disapprobation by the rest of the community.”

He added that deterring China from attacking Taiwan was one reason it’s important that Russian President Vladimir Putin “pay a dear price for his barbarism in Ukraine,” lest China and other nations get the idea that such action is acceptable.

Israel has tried to maintain strong political and economic ties with China, while not angering the US, its closest ally.

US President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at Akasaka Palace, May 23, 2022, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Data published by Israel’s National Bureau of Statistics in January indicated that in 2021 China became Israel’s largest source of imports, surpassing even the United States.

Earlier this year, Israel and China held a joint committee on innovation cooperation, led by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and China’s Vice President Wang Qishan. The committee agreed to a three-year plan to regulate cooperation and government-to-government dialogue between the countries through 2024.

While gradually strengthening ties with Beijing, the Israeli government has also notified the Biden administration that it will keep the White House in the loop regarding significant deals it strikes with China and is prepared to reexamine such agreements if the US raises opposition.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (second from left) speaks at the Fifth Israel-China Joint Committee on Innovation meeting, January 24, 2022. (MFA)

Israel’s cautious approach, reflected in the letter sent out to its missions worldwide, follows a diplomatic incident from last month that involved suspicion of China planting spying devices in travel mugs given by the Chinese embassy in Israel to several Israeli ministers.

However, the suspicions proved groundless, with the Shin Bet later announcing that there was nothing untoward in the mug or others like it sent to Israeli officials.

The incident was picked up by Israeli media, however, drawing criticism from the Chinese embassy, which slammed the “baseless rumors” and said they had “a severe impact as they aim to drive a wedge between China and Israel, tarnish China’s image and seriously mislead the public.”

AP and Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report. 

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