analysisWorld News

Israel ‘must decrease reliance on China’

Harel Manshari, one of the co-founders of the Shin Bet’s cyber unit, tells JNS that while China is an important country for Israel, it is no friend of the Jewish state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the opening of the fourth Israel-China Joint Committee on Innovation Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on Oct. 24, 2018. Photo: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the opening of the fourth Israel-China Joint Committee on Innovation Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem on Oct. 24, 2018. Photo: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin
Yaakov Lappin is an Israel-based military affairs correspondent and analyst. He is the in-house analyst at the Miryam Institute; a research associate at the Alma Research and Education Center; and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. He is a frequent guest commentator on international television news networks, including Sky News and i24 News. Lappin is the author of Virtual Caliphate: Exposing the Islamist State on the Internet. Follow him at: www.patreon.com/yaakovlappin.

Israel must ensure that it is not reliant on China and that Beijing is not in a position to disrupt its vital infrastructure, while still seeking to maintain good relations with it, according to a former Israeli defense official has warned. 

Harel Manshari (PhD), head of cyber and senior lecturer at the Holon Institute of Technology (HIT), and one of the co-founders of the Israel Security Agency’s cyber array, told JNS that recent steps by China signal that its interests lie in maintaining its strategic partnership with Iran—a major oil supplier to Beijing—at the expense of Israeli interests. 

Last week, Manshari, a lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University and the Department of Information Sciences at Bar Ilan University, sent a letter to Knesset Member Yuli Edelstein, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, warning that Israel must ensure that China is not in a position to paralyze its infrastructure. 

On Sunday, Chinese state-owned shipping giant COSCO ceased shipping to Israeli ports, according to a report by Globes. COSCO is fourth largest in the global container market with about 11% of all global trade, the report noted. 

The shipping company “decided on this step despite being considered less threatened in the Red Sea, by virtue of being a Chinese state-owned entity and…Beijing’s ties with Iran—the patron of the Houthi rebels,” said the report. The freeze will likely cause Israeli public shipping company ZIM to activate more Far Eastern routes, bringing up costs due to a lack of available ships, while also affecting the private Haifa Bayport terminal, which is operated by Chinese company SIPG. 

“COSCO made this move without notifying senders and importers in advance,” noted Manshari. 

“China is a strategic partner of Iran. It is fair to assume that if they want to sail to Israeli ports, the Yemenite Houthis will have less motivation to strike their ships. There are also Chinese warships in the Red Sea due to pre-existing Somali piracy threat. The Chinese conduct has been oppositional to Israel,” he stated. 

“Israel must continue to trade with China and maintain the best possible ties with it, but we must understand that they have their own interests,” he added. 

“As a sovereign state, we can’t accept risk” of doing otherwise, he continued.

While China has never been a friend of Israel, it does have an interest in trade with the Jewish state, he said. “It’s a very important country for Israel, this also has to be said. China may have surpassed the United States in terms of bilateral trade with Israel,” he added.  

Unlike the United States, however, Beijing does not see itself as an ally of Israel, according to Manshari, who has been leading calls for an urgent discussion by the Israeli government on the topic of China’s holdings in Israeli infrastructure projects. 

“Despite warnings from the security establishment, in the last decade, the Chinese government has invested extensively in strategic assets in Israel,” he states in his letter to Edelstein. 

“Before the current war, China had already concluded that the United States was retreating from Middle East, and had decided that it would become more active in the region, beyond the Belt and Road Initiative,” said Manshari, referring to a global Chinese investment and infrastructure project aimed at connecting Asia, Europe and Africa through maritime and land networks.  

“China decided to influence Middle Eastern states more dramatically,” he said. “We saw Saudi Arabia renewing ties with Iran, with China presenting itself as mediator,” he recalled. 

The United States then challenged this ambition when it presented its own plan for overland train and road networks that pass through Saudi Arabia and Israel, involving India. 

This is the global context through which China views the region, said Manshari. 

“Every time there is an international incident, China has voted against Israel in every United Nations and Security Council forum,” he added. “Even during the peak of the Abraham Accords, China inserted anti-Israel decisions into the United Nations,” he added. 

In November, when China held the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council, it led several emergency discussions in an attempt to condemn Israel and protect Iran.  

“The Chinese government refrained from condemning Hamas for the atrocities on Oct. 7, and together with Russia thwarted a Security Council condemnation statement against the terrorist organization,” Ynet noted in a recent report. 

“At the end of November, in a rare move, the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi himself led a discussion in the Security Council about the war in Gaza. During the discussion, Wang described the IDF attacks as ‘collective punishment’ and the evacuation of civilians from the north of the Strip to the south as ‘forced displacement,'” the report noted.  

The Chinese foreign minister also called for prioritizing above all a prolonged ceasefire, while also mentioning the “Palestinian right of return,” it continued. 

Manshari said that since the outbreak of the current war, “We see, clearly, more extreme conduct against Israel by China.” He cited as example’s its diplomatic actions in the United Nations and extreme anti-Israel rhetoric appearing on Chinese social media. 

“China is not a democratic state; all social media is supervised. Someone above lets this happen and could in fact be causing this,” said Manshari.

“I believe that Israel must prepare itself and decrease Chinese involvement in Israeli infrastructure,” he added. 

Since 2020, following the formation of an Israeli committee to regulate foreign investment, itself the product of intense American pressure, there has been a dramatic drop in the awarding of Israeli tenders to Chinese companies to operate infrastructure, but they still take part in tenders to establish new infrastructure, Manshari observed. 

“This is also dangerous—if you set up systems with technology  for critical infrastructure, like electricity, energy, water, transport, these are tied to one another. One can be used to bring the other down,” he cautioned. 

Currently, Chinese companies operate the Haifa Bayport terminal, are involved in setting up the Tel Aviv subway and manage desalination and electricity infrastructure. A Chinese company built Ashdod’s new private port but does not operate it, after the tender went to another company. 

At the same time, Manshari said, Israel should encourage American companies to take part in Israeli tenders as well.

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