(OnePacificNews, October 24 2018, Wednesday) — China’s Vice President Wang Qishan is in Israel this week to boost bilateral ties and learn about the Start-Up Nation’s innovation culture and the reasons behind its technological prowess.
The two countries have seen a blossoming in economic ties and people exchange since the ambitious President Xi Jinping took office in 2013 with the promise to make China great again. Israel is a key stop for Mr Xi’s US$1-trillion Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to link up the economies of Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.
Mr Wang, his most trusted lieutenant, will hope to deliver that message to Jerusalem where he spoke at the China-Israel Joint Committee on Innovation Cooperation (JCIC) conference alongside Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The high-powered Chinese delegation on this visit comprises two ministers, 12 deputy ministers, and a large tech and business contingent that includes Jack Ma, the co-founder of e-commerce giant the Alibaba Group, along with top executives from Huawei, Xiaomi and Lenovo.
Mr Wang is known as an avid reader with a curious mind about history, culture, and the rise and fall of civilisations.
If he has not yet read the 2009 best-selling book, “The Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle”, he would have at least picked up its talking points. The book has been translated into Chinese and was a best-seller in China, capturing the imagination of many of its political and business leaders.
Inevitably, Mr Wang would have learned that one of the “secrets” of Israel’s success is that it values insubordination, dissent and debate in fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship. Fearful of being stuck in an economy that relies on brawns and heavy industrialisation, China is desperately seeking to become a brain-powered, innovation-driven country.
But it can’t do that as the Xi regime has become more repressive and authoritarian than all his predecessors since the 1970s when Mao Zedong, founder of the People’s Republic of China, was still in charge.
The stark contrast between the political cultures of Israel and China was played out most recently in their handling of two foreigners known to be critics of both governments.
Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet has lost his right to live in Hong Kong after it declined to renew his visa. In practical terms, he was booted out. Mr Mallet had offended the Chinese government by inviting a Hong Kong political leader advocating independence from Beijing to speak at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club.
While Mr Mallet faced swift judgment with no debate and absolutely no chance of appeal, Israelis were drawn into a high-profile debate over whether to allow Lara Alqasem, a former University of Florida student, into their country to study at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Ms Alqasem was the leader of a chapter of the Students for Justice in Palestine group that supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Her opponents have a slam-dunk case: why allow an enemy of Israel to enter the country and enjoy the privileges of living and studying at its most prestigious university?
In the spirit of the Start-up Nation, other Israelis sprung to her support with an equally slam-dunk argument for her to stay in Israel: why not?
The debate went beyond online chatter and street protests. Due to its legal and political ramifications, the case needed the judgment of Israel’s Supreme Court. In the meantime, Ms Alqasem was forced to wait in detention at the Tel Aviv airport for 15 days from her arrival on October 2.
On October 18, the Supreme Court ruled in her favour, according to the Times of Israel. Explaining his decision, Justice Neal Hendel wrote that “preventing the entry of the plaintiff does not advance the purpose of the law and it was even argued…by the Hebrew University that it harms Israeli academia.”
The Israeli government slammed the decision which Ms Alqasem’s lawyers praised as “principled and brave”.
Dina Wachtel, the Vancouver-based western director of the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University, said it was noteworthy that the university sided with Ms Alqasem in opposing the Israeli government’s argument that she was a threat to national security.
“Let her in, let her study and live with us. Let her see that we don’t have horns. Let her get to know us,” she told OnePacificNews.
In favouring a bitter critic of Israel, the ruling underlines the strength of the rule of law and free speech in the country, said Ms Wachtel. These are essential to support innovation which often demands disruption and opposition to the established order of things.
That’s one secret of Israel’s success that Mr Wang and the Chinese delegation will not be eager to bring back to Beijing.