On Tuesday, Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed reports that he is planning a visit to China, most likely in October, and that he informed the White House of his plans last month. Richard Kemp explains the economic and strategic reasons for such a diplomatic move, and responds to the critical reactions:
Those who have attacked the planned visit as poking a stick in President Biden’s eye after he failed to extend an invitation to the White House, or even suggested Netanyahu is looking for an alternative partner to the U.S., are clearly mistaken. The former thought underestimates Netanyahu’s political savvy—whatever anyone thinks of his policies and character—and the latter is simply laughable.
Netanyahu is never going to lead his country closer to the Chinese dictatorship at the expense of the fundamental relationship with America, just as the first Israeli prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, was never going to opt for Soviet patronage in defiance of America despite immense pressure from Stalin to do so. The U.S. is and will remain Israel’s closest and most important strategic and military ally and the two countries share common cultural, liberal, and democratic values. China’s repressive Communist autocracy, on the other hand, is anathema to Israelis, including the current government.
Diplomacy and communication between Xi Jinping and one of America’s staunchest allies can only benefit Washington’s relations with the second-most powerful nation on the planet. Netanyahu is not the French president Emmanuel Macron, who publicly challenged the U.S. over European strategic autonomy as well as its Taiwan policy during his visit to Beijing in April, playing straight into the hands of Xi. The Israeli prime minister is an experienced political leader who will not allow himself or his country to be exploited by the Chinese Communist Party and will have in mind American interests as well as Israel’s.
Moreover, Kemp notes, it would be hard for Washington to object to the visit when Secretary of State Antony Blinken just made his own trip to Beijing last week.