TEL AVIV – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Beijing on Sunday for a three-day visit meant to bolster bilateral ties with China and mark 25 years since the two countries established diplomatic relations.
“Israel is a very sought-after nation, as you can tell from my recent visits to Washington, Moscow and many other countries, and now China,” Netanyahu told reporters before boarding his flight at Ben-Gurion Airport.
The prime minister is due to meet with the country’s top three officials, President Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Li Keqiang, and China’s parliamentary head Zhang Dejiang, as well as key business leaders.
“We will continue the talks on establishing a free trade agreement between China and Israel and we will hold the third joint Israel-China innovation conference. Of course we are continuing to develop new markets and to open new markets for the Israeli economy,” a statement released by his office said.
The statement continued that the focus of the trip is the “continued strengthening of economic cooperation with the Chinese government — increased Israeli exports to China, attracting Chinese investments in Israel, and increased industrial and research cooperation between Chinese and Israeli companies.”
Netanyahu was accompanied by his wife Sara and 90 Israeli business leaders, the largest ever business delegation to visit China. Several ministers also joined the trip, including Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin, Economy and Industry Minister Eli Cohen, Science, Technology and Space Minister Ofir Akunis, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel.
With an estimated bilateral trade volume of more than $11 billion annually, China is Israel’s largest trade partner in Asia and the third largest in the world. That volume will increase steeply if Netanyahu secures his long-sought after free-trade agreement with the Asian power.
The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) on Sunday published a report saying Israel-China ties “embody significant growth potential for the Israeli economy that must be maximized while taking every precaution to preserve Israel’s strategic relationship with the United States.”
“The intention during Netanyahu’s upcoming visit is to define the relations between Israel and China as a ‘comprehensive innovative partnership,’ a definition expressing both sides’ understanding of the center of gravity of their relations,” the analysis — authored by Matan Vilnai, Assaf Orion and Galia Lavi — went on to say. “The two have clearly agreed to avoid calling the partnership ‘strategic,’ as in the background are Israel’s relationship with the United States and China’s relationship with other Middle East states.”
Netanyahu last visited China in May 2013.
The prime minister left behind a coalition crisis over his decision to backtrack on a deal made with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to establish a new public broadcasting corporation. An infuriated Kahlon on Saturday raised the possibility of joining forces with Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, a move that would topple the current coalition.