Feature: China-Israel business cooperation, intercultural exchanges heating up

Source: Xinhua| 2017-06-10 20:03:14|Editor: ZD
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by Xinhua writer Wang Bowen

JERUSALEM, June 10 (Xinhua) -- Clean, quiet, and organized, the operation site of Tel Aviv's Red Line Light Rail Transit Project undertaken by Chinese companies is working in full swing to help build the long-awaited light rail in the country.

"With the fourth out of six tunnel boring machines being assembled, our work will accelerate although we are already ahead of schedule," said Yang Yanqi, head of engineering department of China Railway Tunnel Group (CRTG).


In May 2015, the CRTG won a bid of close to 3 billion NIS (810 million U.S. dollars) to help build the first light rail in Israel's largest metropolitan area, the Tel Aviv Metropolitan Area (Gush Dan) along the Mediterranean coastline in the west, stretching from Netanya in the north to Ashdod in the south and bordering the 1949 armistice line in the east.

Home to more than 3.7 million people, Gush Dan holds approximately 45 percent of Israel's population. With public transportation, mostly served by buses, accounting for less than 20 percent of all trips, residents here produce over 6 million motorized trips each day, relying heavily on private vehicles.

High population growth, private motor vehicle usage and low investment in public transport infrastructure have resulted in growing traffic congestion. As a result, the light rail construction, scheduled for 2021, bears much hope.

"We met with many difficulties, technically and socially. But we gradually cleared doubt with sincerity, top-quality products and services," said Yang, adding that their proprietor is very satisfied with their work of art and project progress.

The Israeli government requires foreign companies to employ a certain number of local workers, who may not necessarily have the required skills to live up to job responsibilities. The CRTG invested numerous time and energy to train them so that they can perform properly on site.

"Localization is actually a win-win result: we create more jobs for locals while the training they get would promise them a better career," said Yang.

The light rail construction is among many significant projects Chinese companies have taken on in Israel.

Last year in October, five Chinese companies, out of six foreign companies, were issued a five-year housing permit by the Israeli government. They were agreed to invite skilled Chinese labors here to help ease labor shortage and curb housing crisis. It is a part of the government's plan to address housing shortage that contributed to high property prices.

Housing costs in Israel have been rising sharply since 2008, according to data from Bank of Israel, significantly impacting cost of living and triggering a wave of street protests in 2011.

In 2014, the Beijing-based contracting firm Mediterranean Engineering PMEC was chosen to build a new port in Ashdod -- a facility Israel expects to be an important link in a new east-west trade route, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the gala signing of the deal.

"This project will significantly change the lives of Israelis," Netanyahu said. He added that the new Ashdod port has been part of the government's effort to offer Israel a safer and price-competitive alternative for east-west trade to the current Suez Canal route.


While Chinese enterprises operating in Israel are enjoying a sound relationship with their Israeli partners, intercultural exchanges have also been expanding dramatically, driven by the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative.

The ancient Silk Road was where Chinese civilization met with Indian, Arab and European cultures. Today, the Belt and Road Initiative seeks to once again bring East and West closer.

The initiative, proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, comprises the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, with the aim of building a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along ancient trade routes.

Between Israel and China, cultural communication and educational exchanges have been brought to a whole new level since the two nations established diplomatic relations in 1992.

From high-level reciprocal visits to people-to-people exchanges, from performances and exhibits to university swap deals, people from both sides have enjoyed an ever-deepening understanding of each other.

Last week, when China's traditional Dragon Boat Festival and the Jewish Shavuot Day fell, a dragon boating racing, a traditional activity to commemorate the Chinese festival, was held along the Yarkon River in Tel Aviv, where Israelis and Chinese had a good time in the blended culture.

At the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, one of the most renowned universities in Israel, the number of Chinese students pursuing studies here has exceeded 200 out of a total of 2,000 international students each year.

At China's top university Tsinghua, a joint center for innovative research and education named Xin, meaning new in Chinese, was put up in collaboration with Israel's Tel Aviv University three years ago.

"Israel is a valuable country along the Belt and Road. We are initiating a plan to enroll Israeli students in our Global Business Program, scholarships provided," said Hang Min, associate professor at Tsinghua's School of Communication and Journalism.

With Chinese tourists flooding in and China-Israel business cooperation heating up, learning Chinese is the new chic in Israel. Walking in the street, you can easily bump into an Israeli who would smile at you and ask you if you can be a language partner with him or her.

To attract more Chinese tourists, the Israeli government has made tourist visas easier to obtain, becoming the third largest visa provider to Chinese tourists, following the United States and Canada.

The leap in tourism from China has also been attributed to the introduction of direct flights from China to Israel by China's Hainan Airlines.

Observers here estimate that Israel's current objective of 100,000 Chinese tourists in 2017 might be too conservative. Enditem