Experts weigh in on China’s challenges to the US-Israel relationship

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The Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) hosted a webinar on Chinese investments in Israel and the challenge it poses to the US-Israel relationship.

Assaf Orion, Director of Israel-China Research Program, at the INSS, said that the most severe threat from China to Israel “is by undermining and straining the strategic relations between Israel and the United States.”

“The center of gravity here is the US perception of Israel’s-China relations rather than the relations themselves,” he added.

He went on to say that Israel does not see China as a direct threat. “First of all, it’s a low priority for China, except on some issues,” Orion noted. “But, we do identify challenges and risks from China. We need to watch out for cyber and IP issues, including tech transfer through the Academy; We have no direct military threat from China but we do see Chinese weapons exported to the region.”

Another challenge, Orion said, is the techno-military-intel cooperation between China and Iran, “which is actually a convergence of the US and Israel interests.”

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Admiral Jonathan Greenert (Ret.), Co-Chair of JINSA’s Israel-China Policy Project and Former Chief of Naval Operations, said that the Haifa port is a key because all of the sixth fleet operations in the Eastern Mediterranean operating with a partner.

“Here we have China, and we have a lot of unfortunate lessons learned about how China has started small and then very slowly but surely integrated themselves and become a problem,” he said. “I think that is the issue. There have been instances where China has been a problem. If you’re not careful, you get sloppy, the next thing you know, they’re into your systems and into your networks.”

“If you are careful, perhaps it is not a problem,” Admiral Greenert continued. “China needs places to be global. They need places to operate, maritime wise and otherwise. They have been working on a deal with Iran, and some say, ‘Oh boy, they’re going to have a partnership or an alliance with Iran.’ Well, I doubt it. Iran is not very stable, never really has been, but they sure have some places as in Pakistan. When China looks around the Middle East, if they’re looking for a potential partner, somebody to do business with, somebody to have a broader partnership with, Israel is really all they have. Israel is the only one that has the stability, that has the wherewithal, and is emerging technologically. So it’s not just about that one port.”

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He said that the US and Israel should put together proper protocol partnerships to address lessons learned from working with China. ”We should establish partnerships and protocol committees and get them in place and working so that we are vigilant.”

Vice Admiral John Bird, the Co-Chair of JINSA’s Israel-China Policy Project and Former Commander of the US Seventh Fleet, said that the US needs to look beyond its borders at what’s happening with its partners and allies. “If we can’t limit Chinese penetration to the economies and politics of our partners, I think in a way, it opens up a back door or a workaround for the PRC to get at sensitive technologies, get at data and information that we routinely share with our close partners, because we have like-minded security outlooks,” he said.

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