Jerusalem, Aug. 15 – In what has been deemed a historic visit and as a sign of growing ties, the Chief of Staff of China, General Chen Bingde, met with Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and other military leaders on Sunday (Aug. 14). They discussed their mutual struggle against global terrorism, geopolitics in Pakistan and Iran and their shared connections with the Palestinians, a media statement announced.
Barak spoke about the principles China and Israel share despite their differences: “We are two ancient peoples with history and tremendous impact on world civilization. China is a continent [but] Israel hardly appears on the world map,” Barak said to General Bingde, according to the statement.
Two months ago, Barak made a rare visit to Beijing for talks with Chinese leaders “at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart Liang Guanglie,” AFP reported. It was the first visit of an Israeli defense minister to China in a decade.
Israeli-Sino relations have occasionally been strained in recent years. Israel is concerned about China’s ties to Iran and its possible selling of arms to Arab states. On the other hand, Israeli companies are forbidden to sell weaponry to China’s military and defense ties between the two were downgraded due to American pressure.
“Senior [Israeli] defense officials said recently that all of Israel’s ties with China are under careful U.S. scrutiny and in most cases are approved ahead of time by the Pentagon,” The Jerusalem Post reported.
Yet the visit ushers in a sense of cooperation and economic opportunity between the two countries, particularly as the Middle East becomes enveloped by the Arab Spring and China may be reexamining its foreign policies towards the region.
Bilateral trade between China and Israel reached $6.7 billion in 2010. Israel is now in the second stage of a competition to set up a factory in China to help build executive jets, i.e. only for civilian aircraft. It would be the “first large aviation deal between Israel and China in over a decade,” The Jerusalem Post added.
China is interested in oil export and possible transport routes to Europe – a role Israel can fulfill because of its location on the Mediterranean Sea.
Israel, for its part, is interested in China’s seat on the United Nations Security Council, the independent body that passes sanctions against Iran for its illicit nuclear program. Israel is also trying to show China and other countries that the Palestinian bid for a unilateral declaration of independence at the U.N. in September is counterproductive to peace and harmful to direct negotiations.