Israel: Chinese military chief to visit

AP News
Posted: Aug 08, 2011 11:17 AM
Israel: Chinese military chief to visit

The Chinese military's chief of staff will visit Israel next week for the first time, the Israeli military said Monday, in what may signal a renewed warming of ties between the Jewish state and Beijing.

Chen Bingde will be a guest of the Israeli military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, the military said.

Bingde's visit follows Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak's trip to China two months ago. That was the first visit of an Israeli defense minister in a decade.

Chinese officials were not available for comment about the visit.

The two countries' relationship has had its ups and downs.

After diplomatic ties were established in 1992, the countries traded military technology extensively. The relationship frayed in 2000 when the United States pushed Israel to cancel a deal to sell China reconnaissance aircraft. Since then, all Israeli military exports to China have been subject to strict inspection to ensure they do not include American technology.

Despite reduced military trade, Israel-China bilateral trade reached $6.7 billion in 2010.

In a worrying sign to Israel, China has grown close to Iran, vetoing sanctions on Tehran at the United Nations. Israel considers Iran a strategic threat because of its nuclear and missile programs.

Avrum Ehrlich, director of the Israel-China Institute, said the unrest in Syria is changing China's Middle East strategy.

"The most important driving factors of Chinese foreign policy are its oil and securing its transport routes," Ehrlich said. He said the upcoming visit by the military chief could reflect a Chinese desire to use Israel as a gateway to the Mediterranean basin and Europe instead of Syria, which is unstable.