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Marking 30 years of ties, Israel and China convene joint committee on innovation

Fifth meeting of senior governmental forum led by Foreign Minister Lapid; three-year plan signed during virtual talks with Beijing’s vice president

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

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

The China-Israel Joint Committee on Innovation Cooperation met virtually on Monday, led by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and China’s Vice President Wang Qishan.

The countries signed a three-year plan to regulate cooperation and government-to-government dialogue through 2024.

They also signed a series of bilateral agreements, including memoranda of understanding (MOUs) between the two science ministries, between the culture ministries, and an MOU on carbon neutrality. China and Israel also signed an MOU on emergency medicine cooperation, and an MOU on intellectual property between Israel’s Justice Ministry and China’s Intellectual Property Ministry.

The Chinese and Israeli environmental protection ministries concluded a three-year cooperation agreement as well. China, the world’s worst polluter, is responsible for almost one-third of global CO2 emissions, more than the US, India and Russia combined.

The Joint Committee was established in 2014 as a comprehensive bilateral dialogue framework for senior government officials. Monday’s meeting was the fifth time the committee has convened, and the first since 2018.

The meeting is part of a series of events marking 30 years of diplomatic relations between Israel and China.

“The Chinese, like Israelis, aren’t afraid of new ideas,” said Lapid at the meeting’s outset. “There’s a built-in curiosity in the character of our two peoples. Give us a new and exciting idea, and we’ll gather around it, enthusiastically discuss it, and immediately examine its origin and how it can be improved.”

A number of Israeli government ministries and offices participated in the meeting, including Science, Technology and Space Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen and senior officials from the health, environmental protection, culture, agriculture and economy ministries, as well as the Innovation Authority and Patent Office.

Illustrative: Investors check stock prices on their mobile phones near a display of the stock market index at a brokerage in Beijing on June 12, 2019. (AP/Ng Han Guan)

“Israel and China are marking three decades of diplomatic relations characterized by a continuing political dialogue, close economic and trade relations, and diverse collaborations which link the two peoples,” said a statement from the Foreign Ministry spokesman’s office on Monday. “The volume of trade with China has increased significantly over the 30 years of diplomatic relations and today, stands at approximately $18 billion USD. China is one of Israel’s most important trading partners, and the free trade agreement is expected to contribute to increasing trade volume.”

Israel maintains five diplomatic missions in China, another indication of the importance of the bilateral relationship to Israel.

In November, the presidents of Israel and China held the first-ever phone conversation between the countries’ leaders. During the call, Isaac Herzog and Xi Jinping discussed the Joint Committee, and invited each other on state visits.

US President Joe Biden, left, meets virtually with Chinese President Xi Jinping, on screen, from the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, November 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

Israel’s initiatives to strengthen ties with Beijing come as the United States, Israel’s closest ally, increasingly sees China as its primary military and economic rival. This reality has forced Jerusalem to seek a balance between its deep commitment toward its alliance with the US, and China’s growing importance as a global economic and military power.

Amid a US-China trade war that has ebbed and flowed in recent years under both the Trump and Biden administrations, China has shown 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.

Israeli entrepreneur Michael Chojnacki of sports tech firm Baseline Vision pitching his idea to Chinese investors in Jinan, China on May 28, 2019. (Joshua Davidovich/Times of Israel)

Last 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 that 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.

The US was notified before Monday’s meeting, a Foreign Ministry official told the Times of Israel.

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