BEIJING, Dec. 18 (Xinhua) -- Israel plays a vital role in advancing China’s Belt and Road Initiative in the Middle East. Strengthening China-Israel bilateral cooperation is of great significance to developing the economy of the two countries, guaranteeing the national welfare of the two peoples and enhancing the strategic security in their neighborhood.
In recent years, under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, China-Israel relations have maintained a sound momentum of growth, and economic and trade cooperation has been continuously promoted. In particular, in overseas projects and infrastructure construction, China has invested heavily in infrastructure projects in Israel.
Continuously improved China-Israel bilateral trade structure
China-Israel economic and trade relations have become increasingly close and bilateral trade has continued to strengthen, under the background that the high-level visits between the two countries have enhanced bilateral political mutual trust and promoted the friendly cooperation between the two countries to achieve more results.
According to the statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics of China, despite a slight decline in 2016, China's total exports to Israel have maintained a steady upward trend in recent years and hit a record high in 2018. While China's total imports from Israel have been increasing year by year since 2013 and showed an obvious upward trend from 2016 to 2018. Overall, China's exports to Israel outstrip its imports from it, resulting in a trade surplus.
Statistics from Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics show that the amount of imports from China to Israel has been rising year by year from 2015 to 2018, suggesting the growing demand for Chinese goods in the Israel's market.
The 2019 data from the Department of West Asian and North African Affairs of China's Ministry of Commerce also show that China-Israel bilateral trade as a whole has been on the rise in recent years. In 2018, China-Israel bilateral trade reached 13.9 billion U.S. dollars, up 6 percent year on year. Of these, China's exports to Israel registered 9.3 billion U.S. dollars, up 4 percent from 2017, while China's imports from Israel reached 4.6 billion U.S. dollars, up 10 percent from 2017.
Even as the shadow of trade wars looms larger around the world, China-Israel trade has maintained a sound momentum of growth.
The structure of bilateral trade between China and Israel has been continuously improved, with focus shifting from imports of single traditional commodities such as food and diamonds to imports of high-tech products and new energy. The product structure becomes diversified and technology-intensive. Israeli exporters seized the market opportunity of the trade war to expand exports of agricultural products and electronic equipment components to China, creating a substantial increase in exports to China.
Notably, in the context of the Belt and Road Initiative, China’s Ministry of Commerce has actively promoted the establishment of the pilot free trade zones, accelerated the steady progress of the China-Israel free trade agreement, and facilitated the establishment of the comprehensive economic partnership to build an enormous market under the initiative.
Tourism new growth pole for China-Israel cooperation
In recent years, China-Israel economic and trade cooperation has been further expanded, especially in the field of overseas contracted projects and infrastructure construction. China has made substantial investment in infrastructure projects in Israel, including the expansion of the ports of Haifa and Ashdod, and the construction of the Carmel Tunnel in Haifa and the light rail system in Tel Aviv.
So far, the western section of the Tel Aviv light rail's red line, invested by Chinese companies has been almost completed. In January 2019, two lines in the eastern section of the light rail was completed, and the entire light rail is expected to be put into operation in 2021. Driven by the Belt and Road Initiative and China's commitment to deepening reform and opening up, Chinese enterprises have forged ahead and pushed the bilateral practical cooperation to a higher level.
Israel is a key destination for outbound tourism among countries and regions along the route. In order to develop the inbound tourism market and attract tourists from all over the world, Israel has actively improved the airport service facilities. It also provides corresponding reception services aimed at the special needs of Chinese tourists, including Chinese catering, Chinese tour guide and Chinese guideposts and brochures in scenic spots.
In addition, the introduction of direct flights has brought great convenience to the outbound travel of Chinese tourists, and is also an important reason behind the continuous increase of Chinese tourists to Israel in recent years. By early 2019, there were direct flights from Beijing, Shanghai, Hainan and Chengdu to Israel. Direct flights not only bring economic benefits of tourism, but also greatly promote exchanges and cooperation between Israel and China in various fields.
The number of Chinese tourists to Israel has surged in recent years, according to the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. From January to October 2018, more than 3.4 million tourists around the world visited Israel, a record high and a 15 percent increase over the same period in 2017. And the number of Chinese tourists reached 85,000. In 2017, a total of 113,000 Chinese tourists visited Israel, compared with 79,300 in the same period in 2016 and 47,000 in 2015.
With the booming China-Israel tourism industry, China's e-commerce giant Alibaba has launched payment service in Israel since January 2018 to provide convenience for Chinese tourists in Israel. At present, Alipay is available at nearly 100 vendors in Israel, while Tencent, Alibaba's peer rival in China, has geared up to launch WeChat payment service in Israel. (Edited by Yang Yifan, firstname.lastname@example.org)