In an apparent first, an American official on Monday warned that Chinese investments in Israeli tech firms could pose a security threat to both Israel and the United States.
US Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs David Schenker expressed concerns China could purchase Israeli civilian technology with dual use, which could subsequently pose a threat to the two nations.
US President Donald Trump has made countering Chinese global influence a key plank of his administration’s foreign policy.
“We would like to see Israel doing more to monitor Chinese investments — mainly in hi-tech,” Schenker said, according to Axios.
Speaking at a conference organized by SIGNAL, a policy group that specializes in Israeli-Chinese academic cooperation, Schenker said that although Washington was not trying to prevent trade between Israel and China, deals should be approached with caution.
“Ask yourselves if you think China will ever be committed to Israel’s security as the US is, or promote agreements like the Abraham Accords,” Schenker said.
Schenker revealed that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had urged the Israeli government to apply greater oversight on Chinese investments and warned that current efforts were too weak.
Schenker also advised that Israel should be more vocal in its condemnation of Chinese human rights violations as well as Beijing’s purchase of Iranian oil, “which undermine the efforts to counter Iranian aggression in the region” — a reference to US sanctions on Iran imposed after the Trump administration exited the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
Concern at the security risks posed by Chinese investment in Israel — and the apparently weak oversight — has been raised in the past by Israeli defense officials.
In 2018 The Economist reported that officials were worried on two fronts: the participation of Chinese companies in massive infrastructure projects, and the sale of Israeli technology to Beijing.
Officials quoted in the report warned that some infrastructure projects could introduce the possibility of China spying on some of Israel’s most sensitive assets.
A Chinese company, Shanghai International Port Group, has been building a new commercial shipping facility in Haifa, Israel’s busiest port, where the country’s fleet of submarines, believed to possess nuclear capability, docks. The port is scheduled to begin operations in 2021. Neither the cabinet nor the National Security Council reportedly had had any input on the deal, with one unnamed Israeli minister saying that was “astonishing.”
Allowing Beijing a foothold in so strategically important a location, close to an Israeli naval base, the anonymous officials warned, could compromise Israeli intelligence assets and even lead US military vessels to avoid docking at Haifa at all.
At the time, Yigal Maor, the director-general at the Transportation Ministry’s Administration of Shipping and Ports, said that there was absolutely no reason to worry.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in 2017 met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing and is interested in further building up commercial ties, has reportedly been less than eager to create a government agency that would provide more rigorous oversight of trade.
In 2018 China’s Vice President Wang Qishan led a Chinese delegation to the fourth installation of the Israeli Innovation Summit, organized by the Prime Minister’s Office. Netanyahu attended both days of the event.