TEL AVIV — On the day two top universities from Israel and China announced they are starting a $300 million research project focused on nanotechnologies, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised booming ties between the Jewish state and the Asian giant.
“We celebrate the success and huge growth of cooperation and connections between Israel and China,” Netanyahu said in a statement after meeting with visiting Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Liu Yandong.
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 law 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 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.
Israel is still a tiny partner for the Chinese giant, but trade between the two countries has been growing, reaching $ 8.4 billion last year, compared with $ 6.7 billion in 2010, according to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics. Beijing seeks access to new technologies in fields where Israel is considered a leader, including agriculture, water desalination and medicine, while the Jewish state is eager to gain a foothold in the huge Chinese market.
“It’s an ideal partnership because the two economies don’t compete with each other” said Amir Lati, an official from the Northeast Asia desk at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. “One focuses on high-tech and the other on manufacturing and huge infrastructure projects.”
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 universities said they will exchange graduate students and faculty members to work at a joint research center based at the two institutions. The cooperation initially will focus on nanotechnology, particularly with medical and optics applications, but may be later expanded to other areas, including raw materials, water treatment and environmental issues, officials from both sides said at a news conference at the Israeli university.
Netanyahu, who traveled to China last year, has made ties with Beijing a priority.
Last year Haifa’s Technion technology institute and Shantou University, located in the southern Guangdong province, signed a smaller cooperation agreement valued at around $150 million. Chinese companies also have vied to acquire stakes in local companies, including a top insurer and a dairy giant, and expressed interest in the proposed construction of a railway project linking the Mediterranean to the Red Sea.
Yoram Evron, a researcher on China-Middle East ties at the University of Haifa, said that Beijing is seeking to increase its influence in the region, especially to secure the energy imports needed to fuel its growing economy.
For Israel, agreements like the one announced Monday allow it to boost ties with Beijing without angering its key ally, the United States, as increased military cooperation would do, Evron said.
“It serves both interests, it gives China Israeli technology and brings Israel closer to China without irritating Washington,” he said.