China's President Xi Jinping and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: AFP
China's President Xi Jinping and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in late 2018. Photo: AFP

From the United States to Japan, Taiwan, the European Union and beyond, governments have been wary of Chinese technology making its way into their critical infrastructure. At the same time, there is worry of Chinese acquisition of foreign proprietary technology through less-than-transparent means.

There is a conundrum almost all governments face in their relationships with China: They need the country for its affordable manufactured goods, investments and, indeed, its industrial technology (think, 5G telecoms), but at the same time, they must question whether China’s commercial interests can be divorced from Beijing’s strategic and security interests.

That is a matter hard to resolve definitively, and there are as many supporters of deeper engagement – commercially and diplomatically – as there are skeptics.

Israel, however, doesn’t seem too worried, and has in fact been less fussy about its commercial ties with Beijing. But it will soon have to think about this as it weighs the pros and cons of its relationship with its main ally, the United States, against a deeper engagement with China.

With its ambitions to reroute trade to Beijing through a global infrastructure project called the Belt and Road Initiative, China has been courting Middle East countries with the promise of large investments. These have not been without controversy. Chinese companies have bought stakes in Israeli infrastructure such as Haifa Port, which often hosts American military ships, and a Chinese state company now controls Tnuva, Israel’s largest food manufacturer.

The Chinese also have been interested in the Israeli technology and surveillance sector. Chinese investors such as the Shenzhen-based technology group Kuang-Chi are emblematic of the Chinese interest. In 2016, Kuang-Chi invested US$20 million in the Israeli firm eyeSight Technologies, which pioneers computer vision and gesture control.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has touted his country’s relationship with China as proof that Israel has one of the most innovative technology sectors in the world. While the level of Chinese investment might be a touch overblown – $308 million was raised from China by Israeli tech companies in 2017 and slightly more last year according to provisional data – it is forecast to grow comfortably larger this year. And that has US officials increasingly concerned.

Last year, US Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette said in Tel Aviv that Israel should more aggressively evaluate foreign investments, otherwise any vulnerabilities could put US-Israeli intelligence-sharing at risk.

It was a stunning statement for a senior US official to make and revealed a serious gap in the so-called special relationship. US national security adviser John Bolton has also raised concerns about how Israel’s relationship with Chinese electronics manufacturers ZTE and Huawei could affect US intelligence-sharing with Israel.

Part of the problem as the US sees it is that some Israeli companies, particularly in the high-technology sector, benefit from their collaboration with US companies. As such, elements of US technology may be revealed to Chinese firms and to the Beijing government through Chinese investments into Israeli firms and Chinese purchase of sensitive Israeli goods. The US also worries that the adoption of Chinese high technology in Israel’s infrastructure might pose a security threat to the Americans.

Additionally, the continuing US-China tension over trade doesn’t make things any easier for Israel. China analysts have warned that the US is pushing Israel to scrutinize Chinese investments as a way of placing more pressure on China’s economy.

Remarkably, Israeli officials have mostly declined to comment on the possible tensions with the US over China. Their attempt to assuage US concerns has been feeble at best, as it appears Israel’s strategy is to wait and hope that tensions between the US and China will blow over.

Israel walks a tightrope with the US over its relationship with China. Continued cooperation at current levels – with hints of further acceleration – threatens the country’s alliance with the United States and specifically with President Donald Trump’s administration, which has made Chinese influence a major political issue. And that is to say nothing about the White House’s concerns about sensitive technology in which the US has an interest being acquired by Beijing.

Cooperating with China is not in the same league as, for example, Israel’s engagement with apartheid South Africa to allow the latter to avoid international sanctions during the 1980s. For one thing, it isn’t as visibly and clearly abhorrent as cooperation with an international pariah, such as the old South Africa was. Rather, Israel’s insistence on deepening its relationship with China is in line with the country’s history of blithe disregard for caution and prudence.

Moreover, that Israel is willing to risk an open confrontation with the United States over China demonstrates the general feeling among Israeli lawmakers that the country is beyond scrutiny.

This article was provided to Asia Times by Syndication Bureau, which holds copyright.


Asia Times has relaunched on Download our brand new native App for a sweeping selection of geopolitical and business news from across Asia.

Join the Conversation


  1. Hello there! Do you know if they make any
    plugins to assist with Search Engine Optimization? I’m trying
    to get my blog to rank for some targeted
    keywords but I’m not seeing very good success. If you know of any please share.

    Appreciate it!

  2. I have to thank you for the efforts you’ve put in penning this
    website. I’m hoping to see the same high-grade blog
    posts from you in the future as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has
    inspired me to get my very own site now 😉

  3. Hello I am so glad I found your web site, I really found you
    by accident, while I was researching on Digg for something else, Anyhow I am here now and would just like
    to say many thanks for a remarkable post and a all round enjoyable blog (I also
    love the theme/design), I don’t have time to look over it all
    at the moment but I have bookmarked it and also included your RSS feeds, so when I have time
    I will be back to read a great deal more, Please do keep
    up the awesome job.

  4. You really make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this
    topic to be actually something which I think I would
    never understand. It seems too complicated and very broad for me.

    I’m looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the hang of it!

  5. I will right away grab your rss as I can’t find your e-mail subscription hyperlink or newsletter service.
    Do you’ve any? Kindly permit me realize in order that I may subscribe.

  6. Great work! This is the type of info that should be shared around the internet. Shame on the search engines for not positioning this post higher! Come on over and visit my web site . Thanks =)

  7. Aw, this was a very nice post. Finding the time and actual effort
    to make a really good article… but what can I say… I hesitate a whole lot
    and don’t seem to get nearly anything done.

  8. excellent points altogether, you just received a brand
    new reader. What could you recommend about your publish that
    you simply made a few days ago? Any certain?

  9. Excellent web site you’ve got here.. It’s difficult to find
    quality writing like yours nowadays. I seriously appreciate
    people like you! Take care!!

Leave a comment