Kowtowing Israeli Style

Don’t let appearances fool you – Netanyahu’s visit to China is not all about economic cooperation. Iran and the Palestinians will also likely be mentioned when the Israeli Prime Minister and Chinese President meet in Beijing. Yet judging from the latter’s proposed four-point “peace plan” for the Middle East, and the separately announced denouncement of the Syrian strikes by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, we shouldn’t expect any great strategic gains. These announcements were meant to convey one message – that China follows its own agenda and set of interests. 
China in Chinese is pronounced “zhongguo” (中国), meaning ‘The Middle Kingdom’. This term reflects the way China perceives its past, present and future, as being the focal point in a world in which all other states are merely satellite planets orbiting around the sun. In the past, this term defined the way China conducted its international relations. The infamous “kowtow” (磕头) practice, in which foreign leaders or representatives, would prostrate themselves before the Chinese Emperor as a sign of reverence and submission, was a token of this definition. 
Things have changed dramatically since the last time a foreigner kowtowed to a Chinese Emperor. China itself underwent a hugely humiliating period from her point of view as it witnessed the Western powers overtake it in the great race for modernism and industrialization. But now it stands strong yet again, an awakening dragon with vast resources, influence and regional, if not international, aspirations. 
It is for this capacity, as a country with a say and sway, over matters miles away, that Netanyahu visits China this week. China has strong economical ties with the Arab world, and Iran specifically. To satisfy its ever-growing energy needs, China imports a significant amount of oil from Iran (now China’s No. 4 supplier of crude oil). Iran is also a major importer of Chinese merchandise, including military arms and equipment that all too frequently finds its way into the hands of Israel’s various adversaries. 
So as in previous visits to China, Israel will attempt to convince the Chinese to assist in hemming Iranian nuclear aspirations, and stop the trafficking of strategic weapons. 
Now, China has always been an extremely pragmatic country. With the exception of very specific extreme circumstances (e.g. the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976), China has always known how to act in its own interests. Currently, China’s main goal is to do all it can to keep its economic growth on track. Arab oil and stable markets for its cheaply produced merchandise are a means to this end. 
Israel should therefore not keep its hopes up. Despite all the admiration China has for Israel- and there is huge amount of respect for what Israel has achieved over the years, as well as for the history of the Jewish people – China needs oil, and lots of it. It is not going to stop importing oil from Iran just because the Americans and Europeans are enforcing sanctions. So, unless Netanyahu can inform his Chinese counterparts that he has uncovered huge oil deposits underneath his residence in Jerusalem, there is not much he can say or do to really change Chinese policy. 
Yes, Israel has plenty to offer China in other fields, such as clean energy, hi-tech, and agriculture, and will continue to export its expertise in these fields to China since it benefits the economies of both sides. But on the whole, and from a wider strategic perspective, it does not add up to enough leverage to change the Chinese balance of interests.  
So like his predecessors on previous visits, Xi Jinping will nod his head, smile, and instruct his translators to shower his Israeli guests with flowery compliments. Netanyahu should smile back, enjoy his beautiful hotel suites in Shanghai and Beijing,and focus his hopes and efforts at the other superpower across the Pacific.


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2 responses to “Kowtowing Israeli Style”

  1. Anonymous says :

    Judging from how Netanyahu is speaking to the media during this visit, he agrees with you analysis since he is not missing any opportunity to insult the Chinese. For example – "I'm here to combine the Jewish mind and Chinese manufacturing capabilities". Jesus, give the Chinese some credit for inventing the gunpowder and the compass!!!

  2. Daniel Berman says :

    Well, the Chinese are replying in kind. Meeting Abu Mazen before Netanyahu, announcing a somewhat pro-Palestinian peace plan, and strongly denouncing the bombing of Syria – all show how the Chinese are addressing these diplomatic slights.

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