Aug 17, 2022 - World

Scoop: China warns Israel not to let U.S. pressure hurt relations

Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP via Getty Images

One of China's top diplomats warned Israel last week not to allow U.S. pressure to damage its relations with Beijing, according to senior Israeli Foreign Ministry officials with direct knowledge of the issue.

Why it matters: The message from Liu Jianchao, who heads the Chinese Communist Party's international affairs department, to Israeli Ambassador to Beijing Irit Ben-Abba was the most unequivocal and direct message Israel has received from Beijing about the U.S.-Israel-China triangle.

  • The meeting last Wednesday was their first since Liu assumed his influential new ministerial-level role.

According to Israeli officials, Liu emphasized the importance of bilateral relations, particularly for cooperation on technology.

  • Israel and China have clashed in the past over the Palestinian issue, as China recognizes a Palestinian state and consistently backs the Palestinians at the UN.
  • But Liu said that despite those differences, there is no conflict between China and Israel, but rather long-term shared interests.
  • He also said the Chinese people understand the pain of the Jewish people because the Chinese had been persecuted by the West.

Behind the scenes: At that point, Liu brought the conversation around to the strains in the U.S.-China relationship. He said that while China understands the special relationship between Israel and the U.S., it is nevertheless closely following Israel’s policies toward China.

  • “This is a critical test point for the relations between China and Israel," Liu said, according to the Israeli officials, adding that he hopes Israel won't compromise the positive future of Israel-China relations by aligning itself with U.S. policy toward Beijing.
  • Liu specifically urged Israel not to get "dragged" into the U.S. position that China is committing genocide in Xinjiang. Under U.S. pressure, Israel signed a declaration at the UN Human Rights Council in June denouncing China's actions there.
  • Any claims of human rights abuses against China are baseless and insulting to the Chinese people, Liu argued, claiming that China has not "fired a shot" in 40 years while the U.S. has waged war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • The Jewish people have a lot in common with the Chinese people. There is no reason for us to hurt each other. If Israel hurts China because of external pressure, it will be making the wrong policy decision," Liu said, according to the Israeli officials.

The other side: The Israeli ambassador told the senior Chinese officials that Israel has an independent foreign policy — including toward China — but stressed that China’s actions in the UN on the Palestinian issue did not help relations.

  • Ben-Abba also said Israel expects that no third party will influence Chinese policy toward Israel.

Between the lines: Israeli officials say they don't know what triggered the unusually strong Chinese message, except perhaps the recent U.S.-China tensions over Taiwan.

  • But Israel has also significantly cooled its relations with China since former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu left office last year.
  • While Netanyahu worked for a decade to build closer ties to China and court Chinese investments, the new Israeli government has taken U.S. concerns more seriously and started to view China more through a national security lens.
  • A senior Israeli official said China had been giving similar messages to all Western countries. "Relations with China are good and stable and the Chinese know the U.S. is our closest ally," the official said.

A Chinese government spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

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