Foreign and Military Affairs

Chen's planned Israeli trip signals a thaw

Updated: 2011-08-10 07:42

By Li Xiaokun (China Daily)

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BEIJING - The first visit of a top Chinese military official to Israel next week signals warming bilateral ties once darkened by Israel's cancelled arms deals with Beijing, but not necessarily a breakthrough in arms sales, experts say.

General Chen Bingde, chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), will visit Israel next week as the guest of his Israeli counterpart Lieutenant General Benny Gantz, the Ministry of National Defense announced late last month.

It will be the first trip of a Chinese military chief of general staff to the country. Yu Guoqing, an expert on Middle East studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences who spent years in Israel, said that the military ties became frayed when Israel cancelled an arms deal with China.

In 2000, Israel gave in to pressure from the US and suspended the sale of four advanced early-warning Phalcon aircraft to China because they were installed with US technology.

Since then, all Israeli military exports to China have been subjected to strict inspections to ensure they do not include US technology.

However, Sino-Israeli defense ties have showed signs of warming in recent months. In May, Admiral Wu Shengli of the PLA Navy visited Israel. In June, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak visited China, the first visit of an Israeli defense minister in a decade.

Israel will be Chen's last stop on a three-nation trip that has also brought him to Russia and Ukraine.

According to the Jerusalem Post newspaper in Israel, Chen will meet with Barak, Gantz and other Israeli military leaders.

However, the Jerusalem Post quoted Israeli defense officials on Monday as saying that Chen's visit "did not signify a change in Israeli policy regarding defense relations and exports to the Chinese military".

Senior Israeli defense officials said recently that all of Israel's ties with China are under careful US scrutiny and in most cases are approved ahead of time by the Pentagon, the newspaper reported.

"The US has always been very important for Israel and Washington's influence has never faded in military ties between China and Israel," Yu said. "So I don't think we can make a breakthrough during Chen's visit."

Still, the newspaper report said Israel attaches great importance to China due to its role at the UN Security Council.

Yu said Israel's growing focus on Beijing is also related to the continuing turmoil in the Middle East.

"So far Israel is still observing the situation and has yet to comment in public on the impact of regional changes this year on the country. But its surrounding environment will definitely be affected," he said.

"It is in need of fresh outside support, especially from China."

"I don't think that the expansion of Israel-China relations or Israeli arms sales to China in general is going to damage US-Israel relations," Barry Rubin, director of Herzliya Interdisciplinary Institute's Center for Global Research in International Affairs, told the Media Line news agency, which covers Middle East news.

"China has not posed a threat to any country," said Rubin. "You can speculate about the future, but they have not bullied any country, or made claims against any country ... China, it seems to me, is avoiding aggression."


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