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In Israel, China Gets a Pass for Diplomatic Differences

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands in March 2017 (Photo by Rao Ainmin, Xinhua News)

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has raged for decades now, so Israel is no stranger to navigating global politics with this controversial issue hanging over its head. Now, it’s a phenomenon China must also become accustomed to, as reports continue to allege the mistreatment of Muslim Uighurs in its Xinjiang province. China has resolutely denied these assertions, but that doesn’t make the global perception of the issue any easier. However, the two countries may have found new allies, at least economically, with each other.

Business dealings between the countries are on the rise, and there is a heavily rumoured free-trade agreement on the horizon. Israel is a knowledge-based economy, and China has demonstrated interest in receiving Israeli technology. Reciprocally, Israel imports more technology and manufactured goods from China each and every year.

While business is good, the political rapport is somewhat more lopsided. China has been a supporter of Palestine since the Mao era, and officially supports the creation of a “sovereign and independent Palestinian state” – a deeply unpopular stance among many Israeli officials. Israel meanwhile, has made no official statement or acknowledgement of the Xinjiang controversy – a course of action China is sure to favour.

Yet while Israel usually interacts most favourably with countries that support its geopolitics, China has still managed to grow to be Israel’s second largest trade partner over the last decade.

“This happened because the Israeli government decided to separate its geopolitics and its economy,” explains Alex Pevzner, founding director of the Chinese Media Center, a media educational center based in Israel. He backs this statement up, with data showing an explosion of Chinese investment into Israel after the 2011 policy shift.

In other words, Chinese global economic influence has become too large to ignore for Israel, and they are willing to overlook diplomatic differences if it means business will boom.

While Israel’s demonstration of this political compartmentalization may be among the clearest example, it’s far from the only country to employ this strategy.

A Pew Research Poll indicates that a considerable majority of people in the world’s most advanced economies hold unfavourable views of China, which have only deteriorated further since the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite that, China remains either the largest, or second largest, trading partner of most of those same entities, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, Australia, and the European Union. When it comes to the global economy, it appears that China is simply too large not to give a pass to when it comes to ideological differences.

“Everyone in the world understands you must work with China,” summarizes Pevzner.

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