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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Does China want to wipe Israel from the world map?

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The dark hand of China in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war cannot be ignored or brushed under the carpet.

China has used its over USD 400 billion investments in Iran to push the Iranian government to push Hamas into intensifying its terror activities in Israel and plan the ‘Operation Al Aqsa Flood’ which unleashed brutal terror on innocent Israeli civilians on October 7th, 2023. 1400 dead, 3800 injured and over 200 kidnapped by Hamas terrorists.

I was not surprised when the Wall Street Journal broke the news that top Chinese tech companies Alibaba and Baidu have dropped Israel’s official name from their digital maps available online.

WSJ, further highlighted that while Baidu’s Chinese language online maps demarcate the internationally recognized borders of Israel, as well as the Palestinian territories, plus key cities, it no longer refers to Israel by name. The same is true with Alibaba’s Amap

China’s action to remove Israel’s name from its mapping services comes amid the war between Israel and Hamas following the October 7th horrific massacre. In recent days, Israel has criticized China for not taking a critical stance against Hamas, with foreign minister Wang Yi even stating that Israel’s ‘actions have gone beyond self-defense’.

The reasons behind this digital erasure by the Chinese companies continue to remain shrouded in mystery. The influence of China and its ideology towards Israel on the corporate mapping practices in the Asian country cannot be ruled out. The erasure of Israel from Chinese digital maps is a tacit endorsement of Palestine and a critique of Israeli policies.

“Every country has the right to self-defense, but every country should abide by international humanitarian law and protect the safety of civilians,” China Foreign Minister Wang Yi was reported to have told his Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen in a phone call.

Some experts in geopolitics opine that Israel’s absence from these digital platforms could stifle business and investment opportunities for Israel as Israeli tech companies and startups are dependent on global visibility and may find their growth prospects dampened. The exclusion might also discourage tourists and visitors, relying on these maps, from traveling to Israel, dealing a blow to its tourism industry.

A report on the relationship between Israel and China prior to Operation Al-Aqsa Flood by RAND Corporation noted that the relationship between China and Israel has expanded rapidly since the early 2000s in numerous areas, including diplomacy, trade, investment, construction, educational partnerships, scientific cooperation, and tourism. Israel sought to expand its diplomatic, economic, and strategic ties with the world’s fastest-growing major economy and diversify its export markets and investments. China sought Israel’s advanced technology and values Israel’s location as part of the Belt and Road Initiative. Chinese investments in Israel have grown substantially and include investments in high-tech companies that produce sensitive technologies as well as the construction and operation of key infrastructure projects. China has reportedly invested USD 965 billion in Israel.

Historically, Israel was the first country in the Middle East to recognize the People’s Republic of China, but it is the last country in the region to establish diplomatic relations with China. Israel is a cooperative strategic partner, ranking higher than Palestine in China’s hierarchy of diplomatic relations.

On the Israel-Palestine issue, China is known to form its own unique position, which is of moral supremacy with Palestine and cooperation supremacy with Israel. China, normally, comes out to support the cause of Palestine which it sees as just while attaching importance to the economic and trade relations with Israel. Therefore, China tech giants erasing the name of Israel from the digital maps is an indication of the tilt of China toward Palestine instead of Israel in the Israel-Hamas war. While China has acknowledged that Israel has the right to defend itself, the Chinese government has not come out openly to condemn Hamas as a terror organization.

Reportedly, the bilateral trade between China and Palestine reached USD 158 million in 2022, a year-on-year increase of 23.2 percent. The bilateral trade is overwhelmingly composed of Chinese exports to Palestine. In 2022, Palestinian exports to China reached just USD19,000, a year-on-year drop of 94.3 percent, while Chinese exports grew 23.5 percent year-on-year. Among China’s main exports to Palestine were mechanical appliances and electrical machinery, as well as furniture.

As of the end of 2017, China’s accumulated direct investment in Palestine amounted to approximately USD 490,000. In 2018, while there were no new direct investments from China in Palestine, the country signed new contract agreements worth USD 8.87 million, marking a substantial increase of 194.7 percent compared to the previous year. These contracts resulted in a total revenue of USD 4.89 million, showing a year-on-year growth of 65.8 percent.

Beijing, will not term Hamas as a terror organization. It is important to note when Hamas won a set of elections in 2006, China termed Hamas as ‘the chosen representative of the Palestinian people.’ But Chinese investments in Israel supersede its investments in Palestine.

Clearly, China is looking at its relationship with both Israel and Palestine through an economic lens and it clearly does not see Palestine as an economic partner. It, however, needs the Israel-Hamas war to further its hegemony in the Middle East and to counter the US.  So wiping Israel off its digital maps is a subtle message to Israel that China is sulking.

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