Israel and China: Building Modern Bridges Between Two Ancient Civilizations

December 1, 2013
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Despite the obvious contrast in size and seemingly different cultures, Israel and China have much in common, and they have developed fruitful collaborations. Perhaps most evident are academic exchanges, which build lasting bridges between the two peoples.

Israel and China have complementary strengths. Known as the “start-up nation,” Israel excels in innovation and technological advances; China offers a huge market, strong manufacturing capabilities, and a highly trained and diligent work force. Israeli exports to China, Israel’s third largest export destination, rose 6.5 percent in 2012 to $2.45 billion, and the overall bilateral trade is close to $8 billion annually.

Israeli capacity is especially strong in areas where China’s needs are greatest: food, water, and clean energy. For example, Israel’s milking technology has improved yields worldwide, and most of Israel’s drinking water is desalinated from seawater. China benefits from Israel’s expertise in sustainable development. Israel has discovered several large offshore gas deposits as well that can meet some of China’s energy needs.

The biggest match, though, is in the field of education, where an innovative Israel serves as a laboratory of ideas for China — the largest developing nation. Israel recently launched a multilevel academic cooperation with China and India that will not only help Israel to remain relevant in the field of academic research, but also help to create lasting relationships with the two Asian giants.

Beginning in 2012, the Israeli government has implemented a comprehensive and significant transformation of its academic ties with China and India. The plan includes joint research grants — between the Israel Science Foundation (ISF) and its Chinese equivalent, the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) — as well as several hundred scholarships and fellowships for undergraduates and graduates. Though academic collaboration between Israel and China has existed for years, the magnitude is new. Israel has even started teaching Chinese in Israeli schools, with hundreds of children learning the language today.

In addition to the governmental programs and funds, some Israeli academic institutions are independently advancing ties with China. The latest example is the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, which recently announced that it is establishing the Technion Guangdong Institute of Technology, a joint venture with Shantou University in Guangdong Province in southern China. The funding, from the Li Ka Shing Foundation, is one of the biggest gifts in the history of Israeli higher education. But the significance of the move goes beyond its financial value. For example, the new institute will establish an innovation center that connects Guangdong industries with Israel’s technological creativity, providing a presence for Israeli companies in China and nurturing the future leaders of the industry. Moreover, the Technion and Israel and its innovation-based economy are serving as a model for a modern university in China.

Tel Aviv University has just signed a memorandum of understanding to cooperate in innovative research and teaching with Tsinghua University in Beijing, dubbed China’s “MIT.” The two universities will co-establish a joint center (named XIN or “new” in Chinese) as an international hub for scientific and technical innovation. The center will advance interdisciplinary research, spur creativity, and promote activity in fields such as nanotechnology. An investment fund will also be established to seed ventures initiated by XIN Fellows.

With numerous co-ventures between Israel and China, the most important outcome is that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of outstanding Chinese and Indian students will come to Israel to study or will be taught by Israeli faculty in China. These students, the future leaders and goodwill ambassadors, will, we hope, maintain high regard for their Israeli alma mater and forge an affinity with Israel.


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Tsameret Zohar is the Israel-Asia academic relations manager of the Israeli Council for Higher Education (CHE) where she oversees the promotion of student exchange programs and joint research and academic collaborations among Israel, China, and India. Prior to joining the CHE, she cofounded and managed the largest Chinese language and culture school in Israel. She lived in China for seven years, where she got her masters degree in international relations at Nankai University, Tianjin.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlex Pevzner is an independent consultant in the area of Chinese news media and social media. Pevzner regularly publishes articles on Israel and China in the Chinese media. He worked for several years as a staff reporter for Dow Jones Newswires in Taiwan, covering the economy, financial markets, and cross-strait ties. He assisted Michael Oren, Ambassador of Israel to the United States, in the preparation of his book Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East. He is fluent in Mandarin Chinese, Russian, Hebrew, and English.

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