Sep 28, 2022 - World

U.S. and Israel launch high-level tech talks, with an eye on China

US President Joe Biden (L) and Israel's caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid

President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid in Jerusalem on July 14. Photo: Atef Safadi/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. and Israel launched on Wednesday a "high-level strategic dialogue on technology cooperation" amid concerns from the Biden administration about Chinese investments in Israel's tech sector and involvement in research at Israeli universities.

Why it matters: The new platform is intended to boost U.S.-Israel civilian technology cooperation, which had decreased in recent years, senior Israeli officials say.

  • The dialogue was envisioned in the Jerusalem Declaration that President Biden signed with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid while visiting Israel in July.
  • Only India, Japan and South Korea have this kind of dialogue with the United States.

State of play: The U.S. has both security and economic concerns about Chinese involvement in the Israeli tech sector. The Trump administration started pressing Israel on this issue, but then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who had worked to strengthen economic ties with China — resisted any significant steps.

  • But with the Biden administration also taking up the issue, the new Israeli government has started considering Chinese investments more through a national security lens.

Driving the news: Wednesday's first session of the technology dialogue was chaired by national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart Eyal Hulata. Israeli Minister of Science Orit Farkash-Hacohen attended.

  • The dialogue is focusing on four fields: pandemic preparedness technology, climate tech, artificial intelligence and cooperation on the use of powerful quantum computers, something Israel hasn’t had access to so far.

Between the lines: As part of the agreement to establish the dialogue, Israel agreed to discuss “trusted tech ecosystems” — a code name for protecting sensitive technology from China.

  • The agreement calls on the countries to "increase coordination on … research security, investment screening, and export controls, as well as on technology investment and protection strategies for critical and emerging technologies."

What they're saying: Hulata said in a briefing that Israel shares the U.S.' concerns about protecting technology. “It is not only an issue of export controls but an issue of preventing abuse of technology by bad actors," he said.

  • Hulata didn’t mention China directly but said that the Biden administration's concerns regarding the protection of technology are an opportunity for Israel to strengthen cooperation with the U.S. government.
  • A senior Israeli official said prior to the meeting that Israel wanted to reach an understanding with the U.S. on the China issue, without imposing limitations that significantly hamper Israel's tech sector.
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