A One-Belt-One-Road Surprise

Query: Any idea which country has the most ongoing OBOR (One-Belt-One-Road) projects with China?

And The Winner Is…
This just came in … According to Chinese sources, the official winner is …

Israel !

Israel is an OBOR member-nation as well as one of the 57 founding members of the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank (“AIIB”). In the past few years, it has contracted Chinese firms to undertake multiple large infrastructure projects. The major ones include the construction of two new port facilities, Tel Aviv’s first subway and light-rail lines, and a hydro-electric power project.

In addition, on the soft sides, China and Israel are collaborating on global e-commerce platform development, and signing agreements to facilitate trading logistics and administrative procedures designed to streamline the passages of goods and services. China places high priority on cooperation with Israel because it provides valuable experience and example of working with highly-developed societies.

For a nation with 8 million people, the ability for Israel to independently undertake large heavy-industrial projects is limited. China, on the contrary, has been churning out huge projects like “making boiled dumplings”. At the moment, the scale of its heavy-industrial throughput, capacity and technological capability are unprecedented in human history. The Chinese also appreciate Israeli design, innovative engineering, and legal administrative systems in project management. The learning curves are steep for both sides. Heavy equipment by the thousands, shipped in huge ocean-liners or by land and sea, together with tens of thousands of Chinese workers and project managers have descended onto Israeli project sites. If allowed, they would work three shifts a day, in typical China speed.

Given whatever industrial capacity China can spare, Israel has no reason to invest in it themselves for one-off projects, if it can cooperate with the Chinese. It is a win-win proposition. In China, it is an everyday occurence to see hundreds of cranes on city skylines, thousands of earth-haulers move from one town this week to another next week, rows upon rows of makeshift dormitories and facilities for migrant workers being erected and dissassembled from one site only to go to another site every few months. In short, China is constructing and installing infrastructural developments in epic scale, pace and inventiveness.

For more than a decade already, China and Israel have been conducting scientific exchanges on a high strategic level. They were low-key, but broad and deep in range and substance. The Israelis have helped the Chinese with its knowledge, techniques and experiences, for example in transforming farming and natural habitation. There were instances in military exchanges that had caught the ires of the US. But academic and technical exchange projects continue to grow and thrive. Friendship is already deep and flourishing.

Friendship Versus Obligation
Over the years, we learn that there is a vital question constantly on the minds of Israelis: which friend of Israel is real (no pun intended)? Who will be Israel’s enduring friend, and who will count at the critical moment?

But is not America Israel’s best friend? Will America not always protect Israel, no matter what? The wise and astute know that friendship out of obligation, not heart, is not necessarily enduring. US support for Israel derives mainly from the power of the Jewish constituents in America. That power of a small minority can be fragile over the long run.

The Jewish diaspora shares with the Chinese one thing: : they are the only civilisations that have continued unsevered to this day. There is an affinity for one another that is natural and grounded on old ethical civilizations. Today, both have survived recent trials and tribulations, and standing vibrant as never before. It does not escape Jewish memory that the Chinese provided santuary to European Jews during the darkest days of WWII, even as they themselves were being brutalized by the Japanese invaders.

In today’s increasingly complex and dangerous world, it is not surprising that the relatively small but talented population of Israel would find the ocean of hard-working Chinese humanity to be good partners, and potentially the most reliable friends.

Vital Strategic Initiative
Obama began his presidency with a very overt diplomatic posture of ignoring Israel in the Middle East. That sent shock waves down the marrow of Israeli body politics. The subsequent geopolitical developments in the region and the world also signalled potential change in US national interests that will affect Israel. The Jewish diaspora know too well from history the perils of relying on “obligation” from the Western world.

The Balfour Declaration by the English prime minister was a bitter lesson for those who worked for the founding of a Jewish nation during the first half of the last century. The English “promise” of a Zionist national home in Palestine, made to the Rothschild family in return for the international bankers’ support during WWI, was cunningly dishonored afterwards. To make a long story short, had it not been for the crucial maneuvers and critical actions by the astute and resourceful Baron Victor Rothschild, the birth of Israel and its survival in the immediate post-WWII period might not have materialised. Relying on “legal” obligation and “moral” conscience could prove fatal.

Given today’s reality, Israel is taking a vital strategic initiative in developing a hopefully deep cooperative relationship with China. It is an insurance option that China’s strengths economically, militarily and, most importantly, in global diplomatic influence and skills, will give Israel the protection as a last resort.

In that, the Israelis must have judged that Chinese friendship will count, when it matters.




Israel decided in 2007 that it would participate in the 2010 Expo in Shanghai (normally, it would abstain elsewhere for security reasons). The Israeli stand was designed by leading Tel Aviv architect Haim Dotan, whose mother was born in Shanghai, China.



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