【Ambassador Interview】 Ambassador of Israel to China: Great Minds Think Alike

Our Jewish people are highly-motivated, clever, and well-educated. We have to overcome all these hardships. We have to quickly find a practical way. We have to invent many new things by ourselves. I think China is very similar to Israel. That is why the combination of Israel and China would be a winning one.

The Conference on the Dialogue of Asian Civilizations held on May 15-22 in Beijing is one of the most important diplomatic events of the year, and was hosted in China. China Focus, together with the Development Research Think Tank of China (DRTT) Group and China Development Observation, launched a series of in-depth columns entitled, “Ambassador Interview,” which shows the point of view of the ambassadors of Asian countries on the theme of the harmonious co-existence of various civilizations. Today, we have an exclusive interview with Zvi Heifetz, Ambassador of Israel to China.

In May 2015, the joint venture between a subsidiary of China railway and an Israeli company won the bid for the western section of TBM section of Tel Aviv Light Rail Red Line Project. Workers assemble a shield tuner at the red line construction site of the light rail in Tel Aviv, Israel, on April 30, 2017.

The Relationship of G2G, B2B and P2P 

Sun Chao: How do you see the cooperation between businessmen of China and Israel?

Zvi Heifetz: In my opinion, a good relation in B2B (business to business) should be covered by positive G2G (government to government) relationship and laid with the very strong relationship of P2P (people to people), because B2B is exactly between G2G and P2P.

A very strong G2G relationship supports the business, and a very strong P2P relationship depends on B2B. For example, Chinese companies are welcomed in Israel. Hence, Israelis people feel affection to Chinese people. Therefore, the relations of B2B need to be managed well, since it is the base of P2P.

By the way, as for the relationship of G2G, B2B and P2P, this is the first time I have expressed this to the public. Therefore, you are the first one to know this.

Sun Chao: As the Ambassador of Israel to China, I want to know how you feel about the concept of “innovation”?

Zvi Heifetz: Israel has a very good atmosphere that promotes innovation. Innovation basically refers to thinking out of the box. If you think out of the box, then you can achieve innovation.

There are numerous answers to what happened and how happened, but it appears simple that we have started our country from nothing. We did not have enough natural resources, we did not have enough people, and we did not have enough money. Hence, we survived based on our capabilities.

Our Jewish people are highly-motivated, clever, and well-educated. We have to overcome all these hardships. We have to quickly find a practical way. We have to invent many new things by ourselves.

We started from nothing in all fields, including agriculture and industry. In the way of thinking about all these hardships, we became more and more innovative.

I think China is very similar to Israel. That is why the combination of Israel and China would be a winning one.

An Israeli AI startups ecological map.

5% of GDP Invested in Innovation

Sun Chao: The world’s leading companies all have R&D centers in Israel, including Intel, IBM, Microsoft, HP, Yahoo, Google and Sun Microsystems. The number of Israeli companies listed on NASDAQ is second only to the United States, with more than 75 companies. As an innovation nation, there are many new engines in your country, such as Artificial Intelligence. There are seven leading AI companies in your country that are listed as the most promising AI companies in the world. How does Israel develop the innovative industry?

Zvi Heifetz: AI is a part of our technology, investment and innovation, and we also promote it with technology policies. We would apply AI in many important fields. There are numerous successful companies right now, but China is also in a very good situation of AI with many good companies. This is another potential field for our cooperation.

I think there are three world leaders today in AI: The United States, China and Israel.

It is concentrating on creating and innovation that helps us be one of the leading countries in the world. We also invest a lot. Our government invests five percent of our GDP in innovation to support every possible way. Hence, it is already a huge tradition of government support, businesses approach, and various environments. We joined a lot of international investments from all over the world, procuring money from this. Hence, it is already a mechanism that has worked for tens of years, and not a mechanism that just emerged in one day. This has helped and promoted the development of Israel in decades, making Israel unique, when compared to other countries.

Sun Chao: Right now, young people in many countries all face a lot of new opportunities, as well as challenges. How do you see the challenges that young people are facing? If young people in Israel want to set up a company, will the government and society encourage and support?

Zvi Heifetz: The challenges to the state is always part of the challenges to the young generation. It is the same thing. Our economy appears quite strong, with the lowest unemployment rate in the world today. These are the challenges of every country, and we need to overcome these hardships one by one to achieve success, which is quite similar to the sustainability of the Chinese society. Hence, I think in those aspects, there is no big difference between the young generation of Israel and China.

The government will support the new businesses of the young generation. Of course, businesses on science and technology will be the main focus, and not only companies of Israel, but also other companies, including China-Israel and Chinese companies, will also receive support.

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) takes place in Las Vegas on January 8-11, 2019. Twenty-one Israeli high-tech companies attended the consumer electronics show.

An Innovation Partner of the Belt and Road Initiative

Sun Chao: 2019 is the 6th anniversary of the BRI. Could you please talk about your understanding of this?

Zvi Heifetz: We support the BRI. We would like to be an innovation partner of the initiative. There are a lot of programs in Israel, which can be considered as a part of this initiative. One of our main programs that cooperate with China is to provide training related to technology and innovation to third-party countries. For example, an expert of agriculture from Israel comes to China to deliver a speech to experts in third-party countries. This innovative approach is a kind of triangle: China-Israel-third-party countries.

Each project needs technology. Hence, almost every project has a part where Israel could participate. China has built modern roads for connectivity and interconnectivity, but that is only the first step.

Sun Chao: The BRI has Five Connectivities: policy, infrastructure, finance, trade and people. Hence, infrastructure is the foundation of these Five Connectivities. We Chinese often say that if you want to get rich, build roads first. What would be the similar plans for both sides in terms of international capacity cooperation?

Zvi Heifetz: When it comes to the infrastructure itself, nobody can compete with China, because China is the best. However, no project can exist alone, as well as infrastructure projects. Hence, we can be helpful in technology. We can fit in some of these projects.

We are working on this. That is what we are promoting part of our activities. BRI is a very important part. We also need our innovation to cooperate in these huge projects.

You make me think of a great saying, “Great minds think alike”. We already discussed this issue with the leadership of the Development Research Center (DRC) of the State Council, the leading and No.1 think tank in China, and we proposed to establish a think tank between Israel and DRC, in order to cooperate more and find more mutual projects within the framework of the BRI.

Moreover, we have seven well-known universities. Each one of these has some specialties. We have a lot of cooperation with China, and we have a lot of Chinese students. We are also inviting more Chinese students to study in Israel. We offer scholarships and support. What I want to say is that we provide actual support, and not only talk.


Sun Chao is the editorial board member of the China Development Observation, Vice President of the DRTT Group, and the author of New Order: Ambassadors’ Views on the Belt and Road Initiative.