East China New University and the University of Haifa this month launched a joint Israeli-Chinese research center in Shanghai—the first center of its kind and the latest testament to the growing alignment between the two countries.
As part of the venture, the Jerusalem Post reported, the research center will foster collaboration between Israeli and Chinese academics in the fields of computer science, mathematics, and more, and the two universities will also have a student exchange program.
More broadly, Israel and China have been building broader strategic ties through special high-ranking delegations that have traveled between the two countries.
On the economic front, China was Israeli's fourth-most-popular destination for exports in the world, and the most popular among Asian countries, wrote Dr. Yoram Evron, a member of the academic staff at the University of Haifa's Department of Asian Studies, for Yedioth Ahronoth. Chinese investments in Israel have grown to at least $4 billion in less than four years, while Chinese companies have been increasingly establishing infrastructure projects in Israel. The Jewish state recently applied to join China's Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
According to Evron, "Beijing appreciates Israel's stability and regional strategic importance and sees it as one of the regional central pillars in the foreseeable future," particularly considering the instability in much of the rest of the Middle East.
Israel's closer relationship with China may also have something to do with the increasingly fragile relationship between Netanyahu's government and the Obama administration in the U.S.
"As the crisis with the U.S. deepened, the voices in Israel calling for tighter relations with China grew louder, explicitly addressing the fact that China has not put any significant pressure on Israel over the Palestinian issue," Evron wrote.
Rising Israeli-Chinese economic collaboration is also evident in tourism. According to the Hebrew daily newspaper Maariv, tourism from China to Israel grew 30 percent in the past year. In January, China’s Hainan Airlines filed a request with Israel’s Civil Aviation Authority to operate three weekly direct flights between Beijing and Tel Aviv, starting in September. In March, Israeli Ambassador to China Matan Vilna’i promised to get 100,000 Chinese tourists to visit Israel in the year 2017.
Notably, the Crowne Plaza chain's Tel Aviv hotel recently rolled out a “China Ready Guest Experience," which will include Mandarin Chinese-speaking staff, selections of Chinese TV channels, and Chinese foods both as amenities in rooms and in hotel restaurants.
Moreover, Haaretz—citing Chinese television producer Yin Junjie—reported that the number Chinese tourists visiting the Dead Sea, Masada, and a kibbutz called Ortal in the Golan Heights is likely to rise due to the recent filming of a Chinese reality TV show in those locations.
The show, "Luyu's Presents"—which is hosted by Chen Yulu, who has been dubbed "China's Oprah"—focuses on Chinese couples who must complete various tasks in foreign locations. The show recently shot part of its upcoming second season during a two-week period in Israel.
"Israel is going to be on the map," Yin Junjie said.