Israel’s academic cooperation with China has become the focus of U.S. attention. Washington is convinced that Beijing has used such cooperation to buy or steal Israeli technology. So far, Israel has not instituted guidelines to control or restrict academic cooperation with a country regarded as a strategic rival of the West. Stay tuned.
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“For national security officials in Jerusalem, it will be crucial they gain the cooperation of the nation’s top researchers and scientists…”
In 2013, Li Ka Shing gave Israel’s Technion $130 million to set up a research center in China.
U.S. moves to China-U.S. Academic Ties
The United States has managed to stop Israeli collaboration with China in defense, security, technology and infrastructure. Now, it is moving to end or severely restrict Israeli cooperation with Chinese universities.
Washington has been lobbying Jerusalem to discourage Israeli universities from working with their Chinese counterparts. The administration of President Joe Biden has pressured Israel to impose restrictions on Israeli schools and research centers to ensure that Beijing cannot access sensitive information.
“If Israel wants to solidify its relationship with the U.S. while limiting the gateways China could conceivably use to access or acquire the country’s technology and innovation in certain dual-use domains, it must also ensure that its research, intellectual property [IP], and expert knowledge in these areas is sufficiently protected,” a report said.
On Sept. 20, Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, regarded as close to Washington, issued a report that reflected the latest U.S. concerns regarding Israeli relations with Beijing. Authored by British researcher Casey Babb, the report, titled “Proceed with Caution: Israeli Research Collaboration with China,” listed the major Israeli institutions that received hundreds of millions of dollars from their Chinese counterparts.
Nearly every major Israeli university has signed an agreement with Beijing. The first was in 2013 when Israel’s leading technology research center, the Technion, received a $130 million grant from the Li Ka Shing Foundation to establish a research center linked to Shantou University, in Guangdong Province. A year later, Tel Aviv University worked with Tsinghua University to invest $300 million in a research center in China that covered such areas as biotech and solar energy.
In 2016, China and Israel signed seven agreements for cooperation with Chinese universities, which included joint institutes and student exchanges. That led to additional cooperation, including with Haifa University, designed to construct artificial intelligence hubs in Israel and China. In 2019, the two countries opened a center in China based on scientific and technological cooperation and overseen by the Chinese Communist Party.
“Despite these and other examples of China-Israel partnerships in fields with potential dual-use capability, or in fields that could benefit China’s pursuit of civil-military fusion, little is publicly available on whether Israel has faced any substantial research loss at the hands of the CCP,” Babb, a fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said. “Certainly, this could be a case of ‘dogs that don’t bark,’ but China’s track record around the world suggests otherwise.”
Washington has been concerned over Chinese-Israeli academic cooperation. Amid Chinese protests, U.S. pressure has whittled away at Israeli links with Beijing in most fields, including infrastructure, desalination and 5G. In July 2022, Israel and the United States announced what was deemed a new strategic technology dialogue that focused on Beijing. The Americans have claimed that China was seeking to buy or steal Israeli technology.
U.S. authorities have tracked the involvement of American academics with Beijing. A former Harvard University professor was convicted for concealing his affiliation with a Chinese university.
Beijing has not limited its efforts to Israel or the United States. China was said to have sent hundreds of scientists to NATO members. In response, several of these country have established guidelines on dealing with China.
In contrast, Israel, deemed a technology and innovation leader, has not openly restricted its universities. Babb urged that the Jewish state adopt the guidelines of such Western allies as Britain, Canada and the United States, including screening foreign students.
“For national security officials in Jerusalem, it will be crucial they gain the cooperation of the nation’s top researchers and scientists – even those that may approach the topic with skepticism and unease,” the report said. “If Israeli academics, researchers, and scientists are indeed losing their IP, expertise, and assets to Chinese spies, not only will the country’s innovation base suffer, so too will Israel’s economic competitiveness, along with its relations with key allies and partners — notably the U.S.”
…China has intensified diplomacy in the Middle East. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi issued four proposals for stability in the region as part of the Global Security Initiative. In a briefing on Sept. 21, Wang said his country was ready to a play a leading role with Middle East partners, including developing a regional security dialogue. At the opening ceremony of the second Middle East Security Forum, he said China cited the need for what it termed common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security.
…China and Turkey have reaffirmed their strategic partnership at their latest summit. The presidents of the two countries pledged to expand their relations, including energy, security and the Belt and Road Initiative. On Sept. 16, Xi Jinping and Recep Erdogan also agreed to increase trade and investment as well as coordinate Turkey’s Middle Corridor with BRI.
…China has sought to develop ties with Somalia. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed support for the new government in Somalia and the Arab country’s sovereignty. In a meeting with Somali Foreign Minister Abshir Omar Huruse on Sept. 21, Wang said Somalia marked an important element in Beijing’s policy in Africa. The foreign minister said his country will continue support to Somalia but did not elaborate.
…China is interested in expanding non-energy investments in the United Arab Emirates. Chinese diplomats have been inspecting UAE companies for their suitability. On Sept. 13, China’s ambassador to the UAE, Zhang Yiming, toured Emirates Global Aluminium, the largest non-energy industrial concern in the emirates. EGA, with mines in Guinea, has been a supplier of bauxite, the main source of aluminum, for China. In 2021, EGA, engaged with China for 25 years, earned $16.6 million in trade with 55 Chinese firms.
…A Syrian doctoral student has been honored by the Chinese Foreign Ministry. The ministry published an article about Zine El Abidine Walid Ali, one of many Syrian students in China. The article, viewed more than 90 million times in China alone, talked of El Abidine’s volunteer activities during the Covid-19 pandemic. Beijing and Damascus have improved relations in a range of areas over the last year, particularly in reconstruction of Syria.