Israel Sends Lawmakers to Visit Taiwan as China Champions Hamas

On the morning of April 15, President Tsai Ing-wen met with a delegation from the Israeli
Office of the President Taiwan

An Israeli parliamentary delegation visited Taiwan last week, led by Boaz Toporovsky, a sitting member of the Israeli Knesset and chairman of the Taiwan-Israel Friendship Group.

The visit was taken by Israel-watchers as another sign that its relations with China are cooling in the wake of the October 7 terrorist attack by Hamas.

Israel established formal diplomatic ties with China in 1992 and kicked off a rapidly growing economic relationship at the same time, forgetting China’s Mao-era support for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as China’s economy opened up. By 2017, China had become Israel’s largest trading partner.

At the same time, Israel maintained good relations with Taiwan, including an unofficial embassy known as the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office. As with the similar tightrope they walked for years between Russia and Ukraine, the Israelis remained welcome in both Beijing and Taipei by staying out of their disagreements.

That all began to change after the October 7 terrorist attack, when China dismayed Israel by refusing to condemn Hamas. Within a week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was already criticizing Israel for going “beyond the scope of self-defense” and imposing “group punishment” on the Palestinians with its military action in Gaza.

The relationship between China and Israel soured further as the Gaza war continued and China joined in demands for an “immediate ceasefire” to protect Hamas from the consequences of its actions.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described his country’s blossoming trade relationship with China as a “marriage made in heaven” when the two countries announced their “innovative comprehensive partnership” in 2017, but that marriage now seems to be on the rocks.

The Washington Institute postulated in November that Beijing could not help indulging its “inclination to use far-flung conflicts as opportunities to undermine the United States and score points in the ‘Global South.’”

China also seemed to believe Israel valued its billions of dollars in trade and investment so highly that it would look the other way while the Chinese played political footsie with jihadist terror groups, kept their Middle Eastern allies happy, and postured as the master negotiators who might finally make the “two-state solution” a reality. China seemed very slow to realize the scope of the Hamas atrocities on October 7 had changed the game forever.

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) noted in January that Israeli leaders in general, and Netanyahu in particular, seemed to like having China available to use as leverage when relations with some U.S. administrations grew strained. Netanyahu, for example, announced he would be visiting dictator Xi Jinping in Beijing right after President Joe Biden snubbed him for a White House visit over his judicial reforms.

“Given China’s response to the war in Gaza, Bibi’s public efforts to revive Israel’s relationship with China during periods of strife with the United States now appear short sighted,” the CFR observed.

“For many years, Israel conducted economic relations with China while looking the other way when China continued its anti-Israeli position at the UN. Israeli officials hoped that as people-to-people relations tightened, China would gradually change its stance. This did not happen,” Galia Lavi, deputy director of Tel Aviv’s Diane and Guilford Glazer Israel-China Policy Center, told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) in November.

“I see no way Israel can maintain its previous level of relations with China. Things will have to change, but we don’t know how much change there will be,” Lavi added.

On Tuesday, the SCMP saw the Israeli friendship visit to Taiwan as a sign of permanently cooling relations with Beijing.

Taiwan’s outgoing President Tsai Ing-wen gave the Israeli delegation a warm welcome, looking forward to a deeper partnership “based on our shared values of freedom and democracy” – and shared desire to “build more resilient global supply chains,” meaning supply chains that don’t rely so heavily on China.

Toporovsky responded by describing Taiwan as a “true friend” and promising Israel will “always remember Taiwan’s support after the attack on Israel on October 7.” He also mentioned Iran’s April 14 attack on Israel, which was almost completely neutralized by Israel’s high-tech missile and drone defenses.

“Taiwanese and Israelis have much in common as small but strong democracies in a harsh environment. It is time that our friendship became even stronger, and that we collaborated in more and more fields,” he said.

Mor Sobol, assistant professor of international affairs at Taipei’s Tamkang University, said the October 7 attack and its aftermath made Israel realize China “is not a friend, maybe not even a partner,” but a “threat” that might be countered by cooperating more energetically with Taiwan.


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