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Israel's International Relations: Cooperation with Asia

(Updated November 2015)

Israel maintains diplomatic relations with most Asian states. The growing economic and political strength of these countries has contributed to the intensification of ties in the political, cultural and, above all, economic spheres. Technical cooperation with Israel in the areas of rural development, agriculture and education has also played an important role in relations with the developing countries of the region.

Israel and China established diplomatic relations in 1992. Since then, they have developed their relations steadily, culminating in the historic visit of the Chinese president to Israel in 2000 and the visits of three Israeli presidents to Beijing in the last decade.Since the mid-1980s, Israel and Japan have steadily expanded their bilateral relations, reflected in the signing of several agreements and in the reciprocal visits of prime ministers. Japan has also played a significant role in the multilateral peace process.

The relations with India, which started in 1992, have also intensified in all aspects. In 2003, Israel's prime minister made the first ever visit to New Delhi.

In 2005, for the second year in a row, the Arava International Center for Agricultural Training hosted a group of trainees from Tibet. The Dalai Lama visited Israel and met with the trainees and representatives of the Center.

In the year 2000, Israel established diplomatic relations with Sri Lanka. Israel maintains good relations with many ASEAN member countries. Some of these ties date back 50 years and more, as in the case of Myanmar, Thailand, Singapore and the Philippines. Some ties began more recently, when Israel in 1993 established diplomatic relations with Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. In 2005, 150 trainees from Myanmar were entrolled in courses at the Arava International Center for Agricultural Training.

Agriculture cooperation has been one of the main pillars of relations between Vietnam and Israel since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1993. Israel has sent experts to Vietnam and organized 18 courses on agriculture, attracting 850 trainees. These courses mainly focused on dairy cattle farming, aquaculture, orchards and agricultural marketing. More than 180 Vietnamese people have been trained in Israel since 1995. Under a new cooperation framework between Israel's Arava International Centre for Agriculture Training (AICAT) and the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development's National Agriculture Promotion Centre, about 60 Vietnamese agricultural students have taken part in 11-month training programmes in Israel in 2004-2005. Vietnam and Israel have participated in agricultural exhibitions and fairs organised in each country. Israeli pavilions have been present in a series of exhibitions in Vietnam such as “AgroViet,” “Green Week,” and the Can Tho international agriculture exhibition. Vietnam has also sent groups to the world's biggest international agriculture exhibition held every three years in Israel.

In July 2009, Israeli President Shimon Peres received the credentials of the first Vietnamese ambassador to Israel, H.E. Mr. Dinh Xuan Luu, in Jerusalem. The ambassador will operate from an embassy that will be established in Israel for the first time since the establishment of diplomatic relations. The previous ambassador was a non-resident ambassador operating from Cairo.

Since the mid-1980s, Israel and Japan have steadily expanded bilateral cooperation, reflected inter alia in the signing of several agreements, reciprocal visits of prime ministers and ministers and Japan's contribution to the multilateral peace process. During 2002, Israel and Japan celebrated the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.

Israel has had full diplomatic ties with Australia and New Zealand for many years, though relations with the latter were briefly severed over the capture of Mossad agents operating illegally. In the recent past, relations have been established with ten newly independent island states, most of which participate in various programs of Israel's international cooperation.

In 2005, Israeli and Pakistani foreign ministers met publicly in Istanbul for the first time. Pakistan's foreign ministry said that a Pakistani delegation will travel to Gaza and Jerusalem in October 2005. Meanwhile, Pakistani Minister Khursheed Kusari revealed that Israel and Pakistan have had secret contact for some ten years before the ties were made public.

In 2006, Taiwan signed its first agreement with Israel for technological cooperation. Ruth Kahanoff, director of the Israel Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei, which serves as Israel’s de facto embassy in Taiwan in the absence of official diplomatic relations, signed the agreement in late January with Taiwanese officials from the country’s National Science Council. Earlier in the month, a representative of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Tel Aviv signed the same document with Israeli officials there. Key areas for cooperation will be nanotechnology and biotechnology.

In April 2014, Israel's Ministry of the Economy announced plans to open trade attache offices in Asia (in addition to Africa and South America), as an effort by Foreign Trade Administration director Ohad Cohen turns the ministry to emerging markets. The trend of Israel turning to new and growing markets at the expense of its European presence will continue because of the changing Israeli balance of trade. "Six years ago, we were in a completely different place in terms of our activity in Asia [with] just two economic attaches in China and India, in Beijing and New Delhi. Today we have five offices in China, three in India, and we added attache in Vietnam and an office in Manila, which is examining business and trade opportunities with the Philippines." Because of this shift in attention, trade attache offices in Austria, Hungary, Finland and Sweden have been closed or downsized with offices in adjascent countries. Meanwhile, India-Israel free trade agreement negotiations are progressing, a study about opening negotiations with China about a potential free trade agreement is slated to being in the summer of 2014, and a similar study about Vietnam was completed in March 2014.

As part of a 5 year Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Vietnam and Israel encouraging cooperation within the dairy products sector, Israel and Vietnam opened the Dairy Demonstration and Experimental Farm in Vietnam's capital Ho Chi Minh City in 2013.  The farm is managed by the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the Israeli Embassy in Vietnam.  Operations at the facility are overseen by Israel's Mashav Agency for International Development Cooperation.  The goal of the Dairy Demonstration and Experimental Farm is to find a way to increase the milk production and efficiency of Vietnamese farmers.  Ideally, the program would like to see the individual Vietnamese cows produce 8,000 litres of milk per year instead of 3,500 litres of milk per year as they currently are.  Cows in Israel produce up to 13,000 litres of milk per year.  Poor living conditions in addition to poor nutrition, metabolic problems, and the high temperatures and humidity contribute to the sickly nature of the Vietnamese dairy cows.  The Israeli officials running the Dairy Demonstration and Experimental Farm are teaching the Vietnamese farmers how to get the most milk out of their cows, using techniques such as keeping them constantly cool to avoid heat stress and improving their diet with fresher and more nutritious grasses.  The facility contains 174 animals and farmers come to take courses in best practices for farming and taking care of their cows.  Staff at the Dairy Demonstration and Experimental Farm also routinely make site-visits to the individual farms.  The individual farmers are often very poor so they have been slow to adopt the new practices that need newer, specialized equipment. 

In November 2015 Vietnamese and Israeli businesses held a conference called “Meet Israel,” in Hanoi, Vietnam, that attracted 130 participants from both countries. Vietnamese Ambassador to Israel Cao Tran Quoc Hai said that Vietnam was interested in Israeli medical equipment and devices, drip irrigation technology, male shrimp breeding techniques, and various other agricultural advances. Two-way trade between Israel and Vietnam increased fivefold from 2009 to 2014, jumping from $200 million to $1.1 billion.

Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd (IAI) inked a deal worth $15 million in November 2016, to build a cyber-intelligence system for an undisclosed large customer in Asia. The project will use existing technology infrastructure including cellular systems to create a national-level, advanced cyber-technology security solution.

Sources: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs;
Azulai, Yuval. “Israel opens new trade attache offices in Asia, Africa,” Globes (April 27, 2014);
Udasin, Sharon. “Israeli, Vietnamese dairy experts partner to improve milk quality and yield in Ho Chi Minh City,” Jerusalem Post (December 25, 2014);
“Vietnam, Israel boost trade ties,” Vietnam News (November 6, 2015);
“Israel Aerospace wins $15m Asian cyber deal,” Globes, (November 3, 2016).