As part of Asia pivot, Netanyahu pushes Israeli hi-tech in China

Mon Mar 20, 2017 9:38am EDT
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By Yuval Ben-David and Michael Martina

JERUSALEM/BEIJING (Reuters) - China's economy may be 35 times larger than Israel's, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hoping to use that to advantage during a three-day visit to Beijing as he looks to reorient Israel's economy toward Asia over Europe and the United States.

A week after U.S. chip giant Intel agreed to buy Israeli technology firm Mobileye for $15.3 billion, Netanyahu wants to enlarge Israel's high-tech presence in China while encouraging further Chinese investment in Israel, where infrastructure and construction projects are growing apace.

More than 100 technology executives have joined Netanyahu on the visit, with meetings planned with Chinese business leaders.

Bilateral trade has been hovering at around $8 billion for the last few years, but over the past decade, Israel's exports to China have tripled to $3.3 billion in 2016, with technology - from cybersecurity to agri-tech - leading the way.

Half the investments in Israeli funds in 2015 involved at least one Chinese investor, and 40 percent of funds raised by Israeli venture capital firms came from Chinese backers, according to the Economy Ministry. 

"Israel is pivoting towards Asia in a very clear and purposeful way," Netanyahu said last month in Singapore, which he visited along with Australia. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Israel in the summer, underpinning the Asia trend.

While the European Union remains Israel's largest trading partner, Asia is steadily closing the gap and politically it tends to put far fewer demands on Israel than the EU does.

Matan Vilnai, Israel's former ambassador to Beijing, said China's interests in Israel were almost purely economic. The Chinese leadership seeks to learn from Israel's culture of high-tech innovation and doesn't push beyond that. "It's very simple: technology, technology, technology," he told Reuters.    Continued...

Yisrael Katz (front), Israel's Minister of Transport, and employees of China Railway Engineering Corporation, take part in an event marking the beginning of underground construction work of the light rail, using a Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM), in Tel Aviv, Israel February 19, 2017. Picture taken February 19, 2017. REUTERS/Baz Ratner