How Israel’s New Government Might Approach China, and How It Should

January 9, 2023 | Assaf Orion
About the author: Assaf Orion is a retired Israeli brigadier general and the Liz and Mony Rueven international fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

In a 2017 speech, Benjamin Netanyahu referred to Sino-Israeli trade relations as “a marriage made in heaven,” but much has changed since then. Much has changed, in fact, between Netanyahu’s departure from the prime minister’s office in June 2021 and his recent return. Revisiting the themes of his September essay in Mosaic, Assaf Orion considers what the future will hold, and gives some advice to the new coalition:

The world as it was when Prime Minister Netanyahu shaped his policy early last decade has changed entirely. Competition between the great powers is fiercer and has spilled over from exchanges of blows and tariffs to dramatic restrictions on exports of silicon chips and technology, to a war in Ukraine and to the real possibility of a military clash over Taiwan. Netanyahu can’t enter the same river twice, when Israel’s room for maneuver between the powers, particularly on technology, has shrunk significantly. Many Western countries face dilemmas similar to those faced by Israel, and are part of an emerging camp for technology partnerships between democracies.

In view of the range of political issues on the agenda between Jerusalem and Washington—Iran, the Palestinians, Russia and Ukraine, and numerous domestic matters—relations with China appear to be a subject where the government has neither need of nor interest in a confrontation with Washington, for whom China is a major concern.

At the same time, Orion writes, the U.S. need to confront Beijing presents the Jewish state with opportunities:

The strategic dialogue with the United States opens up new horizons for Israel for breakthrough collaborations with its greatest ally, and enables it to increase its value for Washington and to strengthen the strategic ties between them. The new Israeli government should continue building its policy on the layers sown by its predecessors since 2019: to continue to advance economic relations with China under national security considerations; continue to decrease its exposure to the national security challenges associated with China worldwide: dependence, espionage and influence, supply-chain security, and loss of technology; and promote the strategic dialogue with Washington on trusted tech ecosystems, as a path toward improving the security of Israel’s technologies in the face of external challenges, and strengthening relations with its indispensable ally.

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