Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to visit China next week. The trip marks 20 years since diplomatic relations were established between the two countries.
Aside from holding discussions on economic matters and trade, Netanyahu will also take part in talks on the latest developments in the Iranian nuclear program and the unfolding events in Syria. It is reasonable to assume that peace negotiations with the Palestinians will also come up.
Chinese Ambassador to Israel Gao Yanping is fully cognizant of the importance of Netanyahu's trip to Beijing. In an exclusive interview with Israel Hayom, Yanping points out that the visit is due to take place just a short time after a new leadership was installed in the world's most populous country.
"China views its relations with Israel with tremendous importance," she said.
"Both countries are coping with regional and global changes that require them to acclimate themselves accordingly. China-Israel ties are currently at a new, historic juncture. We must continue to jointly build upon the work that has been done and to do so successfully in coming years. We believe that the continued development of relations is not just beneficial to the two countries and the two peoples, but also contributes significantly to regional stability, the peace of the world, and international prosperity."
Yanping notes that this will be Netanyahu's second visit to the Asian giant (his first was in 1998), and that this will be the first visit by an Israeli prime minister since Ehud Olmert traveled to China in 2007.
"The new leadership and government in China greatly value the bilateral relations and Prime Minister Netanyahu's visit," she said.
"The visit will determine the direction which the relationship will take in coming years, and it will elevate the ties to a new level. Both sides are due to sign a number of cooperation agreements that will strengthen the relationship.
"Netanyahu's name is familiar to all Chinese. He is a veteran statesman, a charming leader and an eloquent speaker. He appears often on national newscasts and he is well known to the Chinese people. I've been told that Netanyahu will grant an interview with China's main television network during his visit, and I think that the interview will be well received. It will serve to boost his popularity in China."
Q: What will be the visit's focal point?
"The leaders of China and Prime Minister Netanyahu will discuss bilateral relations, the Middle East peace process, and other issues, both regional and global, that are relevant to both countries. These will be comprehensive discussions that are likely to include topics that are germane to both sides. China's special envoy to the Middle East, Wu Sike, visited Israel and Palestine last April. In his meetings with senior Israeli officials, he discussed the Israeli-Palestinian question as well as other regional topics.
"We are hopeful that both the Israelis and the Palestinians will devote renewed efforts to restart peace talks soon. China will continue to play an active and supportive role in this context. Nonetheless, the most important issue to be tackled during the visit is bilateral relations between the two countries, with a special emphasis on the economic matter."
What achievements can be credited to the diplomatic relations between the two states?
"We have managed to achieve much, thanks to our cooperation in numerous areas like the economy, trade, science, technology, agriculture and the like. The volume of bilateral trade increased almost 200-fold, from just over $50 million in 1992 to $9.91 billion in 2012. I am happy to point out that Prime Minister Netanyahu is keen on doubling trade between the two sides and to make China an economically strategic destination for Israel. I am encouraged by his vision and I would be happy to work with Israeli friends and colleagues toward this end."
Are there any ventures in Israel that are attracting Beijing's attention?
"There are many things in Israel that are garnering positive attention on the Chinese side. In 2011, ChemChina invested $2.4 billion in buying 60 percent of shares of Makhteshim Agan, a deal which The New York Times characterized as one of the 10 most noteworthy mergers and acquisitions of the year. Last year, Chinese companies invested $11.5 billion in Israel. A well-known Chinese construction company, CCECC, is currently in the midst of building the Gilon Tunnel [to become the route of a new train line connecting Acre and Karmiel], and there are 3,800 Chinese laborers who contribute to Israeli industry, particularly in the service and construction fields."
Is there a specific field in Israel that garners even more attention from China?
"The area of science and technology. We have great interest in cooperation in this field, and we have already succeeded in achieving a great deal. Cooperation with Israel significantly promoted agricultural development in western China. On subjects related to the development of water sources, China and Israel jointly built the first desalination plant in Tianjin. In the field of medicine, the Jiangsu-Israel Industrial Research and Development Program, which is busy in developing medicine to combat epilepsy, has yielded tremendous progress. In the field of solar energy, cooperation between the province of Jiangsu and the ZenithSolar company is progressing nicely."
What can you say about China and Israel's shared history?
"To paraphrase an ancient Chinese proverb, friendship between people is the key to brave ties between countries. If you want to make a list of countries that are devoid of even the least amount of anti-Semitism, China is proud to be at the top of that list. The Chinese people and the Jewish people share a long, historic friendship. Jews from the Middle East made journeys through the Silk Road and arrived in China as early as the eighth century during the days of the Song Dynasty. It was then that they established Jewish communities in Kaifeng, which was the capital at the time. They gradually assimilated into Chinese culture and became Chinese Jews."
The Chinese envoy continued to list points in history that are shared by the Jewish and Chinese peoples. She mentioned the arrival of Eastern European Jews who were fleeing anti-Semitism and the absorption of Jewish refugees in Shanghai following the rise of Hitler ("China took in more Jews than Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and India combined"). She also uttered the name of a certain Jewish hero.
"I'd like to pay tribute to Hans Shippe, a Jewish journalist from Germany who was the first Jewish volunteer to fall in battle during Japan's war of aggression against China. He left Shanghai and joined the Chinese army in 1939. On Nov. 30, 1941, a few days before Pearl Harbor, he was killed in a battle with Japanese forces in the Shandong province. The Chinese built a memorial in his honor not far from the battlefield."
To what extent does the mutual respect that has accumulated in the past impact present and future relations?
"It has served as a solid foundation for new and continued development of diplomatic ties between China and Israel. It's like constructing a building. If we have deep, stable foundations, we can build a very high tower. I believe that the historic base will make our relations stronger and unbreakable, now and in the future."
As the highest-level official representative of her government, Yanping naturally wishes to present China in the clearest light.
"I want to emphasize that China is committed to undertaking reforms and opening up before the world, and it is making progress on its central goal of changing its model of growth. We are now working to implement a strategy of innovation. We are taking steps to promote innovation and bring it up to speed with global progress.
"Israel is a major point of interest in this context. Israel is small physically, but it is large in innovation. As the start-up nation, Israel has much to share with China. If we work together and combine the advantages of our relations, we will certainly enjoy the benefits of mutual growth and successful results that will serve the interests of both sides."
How is China successfully dealing with the problems of the global economy?
"As a large country, China adopted an active and responsible approach in dealing with the global economic crisis. China has been adept at managing its affairs. It has restored stability to the Chinese economy and it has seen consistent, fast growth in a very short time frame. We are committed to development and cooperation.
"We have sent over 30 large purchasing delegations abroad. As a result, we have helped generate significant demand and a large number of jobs, and we have solidified a supportive environment for the development of multi-national companies. We have also helped promote reforms in the international financial system and we have extended offers of aid to countries with economic difficulties."
Obviously, this is something you will continue to do.
"I'd like to share with you our views on the way to promote stable growth in the global economy. First, we need open, fair international trade. We must reject commercial and financial protectionism and instead cope with commercial tensions in the proper way.
"Secondly, we need to improve the coordination of macro-economic policies. This is an important mission. All countries need to treat global economic growth as a joint goal.
"Thirdly, joint collaboration in the field of science and technology innovation is an essential way to climb out of the economic crisis. Important scientific and technological breakthroughs have always provided us with new engines of growth in times of large-scale economic crises. The world is on the cusp of scientific and technological revolutions. Removing technical commercial barriers and improving the protection mechanisms on copyrights are vital issues.
"Fourthly, a global economic system of governance is an institution guarantor of global economic growth. In recent years there have been a number of noteworthy achievements in the area of reforming the global economic governance apparatus. But the establishment of a fair, just, and comprehensive global economic order that would be managed efficiently remains the most daunting missions that lies ahead."
You mentioned the economic openness that China seeks.
"China will continue to improve its comprehensive policies promoting openness. China's regional character and its development provide a wide range of investment opportunities. We combine economic openness with coordinated regional development in order to promote the opening of maritime and terrestrial borders. We are planning to establish regional patterns of openness that are balanced and agreed upon. We will continue to happily promote international investment in China.
"We encourage foreign investors to build research and development centers in China and to use the scientific, technological and intellectual resources available to advance local innovation. We will accelerate the implementation of a strategic 'going out into the world.' We will instruct corporations on how to properly conduct themselves when making foreign investments and forging cooperation agreements, in accordance with the principles of market ideas and decision-making in the business world.
"China will expedite the creation of national markets in a uniform, open, competitive, and organized manner so as to provide a good business environment for both foreign and local investors. We will share development opportunities with other countries and together we will take on all sorts of challenges in order to allow China's development to benefit many more countries and nations."
Indeed, there are points of disagreement. China continues to import petroleum from Iran. We asked the envoy if there was any chance Beijing would adopt the European Union sanctions against Iran at any point in the future?
"China opposes the proliferation of nuclear weapons," Yanping said. "We are dissatisfied over the development of nuclear weapons in any of the Middle Eastern countries, including Iran. As a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Iran is obligated to preventing the spread of these kinds of weapons worldwide.
"China believes that dialogue and negotiations are not just the right way to solve the problem of the Iranian nuclear program, but that they also serve the fundamental interests of all sides involved. There's still a long way to go before we get to a comprehensive, long-term, appropriate arrangement on the Iranian nuclear issue. Dialogue on this issue is currently at a new, critical stage of essential negotiations."
To what extent is China concerned over the current situation in the Korean peninsula?
"As things pertain to the situation in the Korean peninsula, China is very concerned, and its position on the issue of Korea is consistent and clear. It doesn't matter what happens, we adhere to our support for peace and stability on the peninsula. We also support the process of decommissioning of nuclear weapons and we will continue to approach the issue and its solution in peaceful ways -- by dialogue and consultations. We implore the protagonists to refrain from any action that could escalate tensions and instead to engage in dialogue in order to improve relations and build trust. China will make endless efforts toward that end."
How does China see its own future and that of the globe?
"China will work to promote two central goals. First, by 2020, we will double our gross domestic product compared to 2010, and we will double the average income of our citizens in the cities and villages, completing the creation of a flourishing society. Secondly, by 2049, which is the year we will mark the centennial of the establishment of the People's Republic of China, we will turn China into a modern socialist country, one that is flourishing, strong, democratic and progressive from a cultural and harmonic standpoint.
"China's President, Xi Jinping, is pushing the Chinese dream forward. Its basic elements are prosperity for the entire country, revitalizing the nation and joy for all of the people. The Chinese dream will benefit everyone across the globe. As China grows progressively stronger, it will create more development opportunities worldwide. In the next five years, Chinese imports will reach $10 trillion. Chinese investment in foreign countries will reach $500 billion, and the number of Chinese tourists traveling abroad will exceed 400 million, which is 50 times the population of the State of Israel."
It's easy to say, but harder to do.
"The international balance of power continues to develop in directions that benefit peace and development. This is a world in which countries are connected to and dependent upon one another in a way that the world has never seen. It is becoming increasingly clearer that humanity is a community that shares a joint future. No less important, this is a world in which humanity is facing many daunting challenges. There is the continued effect of the global economic crisis, the noticeable increase in all forms of protectionism, the constant regional tensions, the rise in hegemony, the politics of force, the intervention in the domestic affairs of others, security threats, arms races, terrorism, and online security.
"We hope that the world will become a better place. We have reasons to believe this will happen. As such, we are aware of the fact that even if the future is promising, the path leading to it could be turbulent. We support respectful cooperation between all the countries and all the nations of the world. All of the countries, irrespective of their size and wealth, are equal to one another."
Is equality among countries realistic?
"You can't have continued development in a world where certain countries are growing richer, while others suffer from poverty and prolonged neglect. It is only when all the countries of the world attain growth that the world can develop better. We support security cooperation among all the countries and all the peoples of the world. Fighting alone or fighting out of the blind belief in the use of force will not lead anywhere.
"The only solution lies in security cooperation, joint collective security cooperation. We believe that the future of the world needs to stay in the hands of all the peoples of the world. Matters related to sovereign rights of a particular country need to be dealt with by the government and the people in that country. Matters related to the global system need to be dealt with by all the governments of the world and their peoples by means of consultation."