Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cautioned Israelis about the dangers of doing business with China, ranging from debt colonialism to technology theft and espionage, in an interview with Israeli correspondent Barak Ravid on Thursday.
Pompeo warned that America might not be able to work as closely with Israeli intelligence if Israel becomes dependent upon Chinese electronic equipment the United States views as a security risk.
Ravid described Pompeo’s “strong warning to Israel regarding its ties with China” as the “most interesting part of the interview.”
6 The most interesting part of the interview was about China. Pompeo gave a strong warning to Israel regarding its ties with China. Watch it here: pic.twitter.com/QyOBTHBhY4
— Barak Ravid (@BarakRavid) March 22, 2019
“How concerned is the Trump administration by the growing ties between Israel and China?” Ravid asked.
“China broadly presents a real opportunity,” Pompeo replied. “They’re an economic powerhouse. There are lots of opportunities that countries have to do businesses with China. When China behaves transparently, when China is engaged in real economic transactions, we are untroubled.”
“When China behaves using debt as a trap, when China bribes, when China engages in spying through its commercial state-owned enterprises and presents risk through its technology systems – companies like Huawei which present real risk to the people of Israel – when those things happen, we want to make sure that countries know about it, know the risks,” he continued.
“And then countries will make their own sovereign decisions. We’ll have to do the same,” Pompeo said.
Ravid asked if Pompeo wanted to see any specific changes in Israeli policy toward China.
“I want to make sure that every country is wide-eyed and awake with respect to the threats that are posed by China, and then make sure that they understand as well: America will have to make decisions too,” Pompeo responded.
“If certain systems go in certain places, then America’s efforts to work alongside you will be more difficult, and in some cases, we won’t be able to do so,” he elaborated.
Ravid asked if this included intelligence sharing.
“You can imagine lots of different places. Intelligence sharing might have to be reduced. Co-location of security facilities might have to be reduced. We want to make sure that countries understand this and know these risks,” Pompeo said.
The Times of Israel noted on Thursday that the Trump administration has given Israel several similar warnings since the beginning of the year, but Secretary of State Pompeo is the highest-ranking official to explicitly warn Israel that Chinese investment and technology could compromise its security relationship with the United States.
Pompeo’s concerns are shared by some Israeli officials, notably including the head of the Shin Bet security agency, Nadav Argaman.
Argaman warned in a January speech that “Chinese influence in Israel is particularly dangerous in terms of strategic infrastructure and investments in larger companies,” including Tel Aviv’s railroad system and the strategic port city of Haifa. He did not call for breaking off these investment relationships with China, but he did advocate passing legislation to ensure they are monitored carefully.
Many Israelis are apprehensive about China’s Shanghai International Ports Group taking over operations at the port of Haifa for the next 25 years. One of their major concerns, which will no doubt be exacerbated by Pompeo’s remarks, is that U.S. Navy ships might begin avoiding the port due to the danger of China spying on them. For that matter, the new Chinese managers of Haifa will have a splendid view of Israel’s largest naval base.