China’s Vice President Wang Qishan – often characterized as the second-most important person in China – arrived on Monday and went immediately to the Western Wall.
At the holy site, Wang told his hosts that he has read much about Jewish history and was happy to “see and touch history near the stones of the ancient wall.”
Mordechai Eliav, head of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation – aided by a model of the Temple – gave his guest an explanation of the Jewish people’s connection to the site.
Wang then recited a personal prayer and placed a note inside the crevices of the wall.
In 2016, China was among the countries that voted in UNESCO for a resolution essentially erasing Jewish history from the Temple Mount.
Since President Donald Trump became the first sitting US president to visit the wall in 2017, more and more foreign dignitaries are putting a formal visit to the site on their official agenda.
In addition to the Western Wall, Wang also visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City. He was accompanied by two senior Foreign Ministry officials: chief of protocol Meron Reuven and deputy director-general for Asia and the Pacific Gilad Cohen.
The visit to the wall was the start of a three-day visit for Wang that underlines the importance Beijing attributes to ties with Jerusalem. After the visit, Wang went to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence for dinner.
Netanyahu greeted Wang by saying that his visit to Israel “is a tremendous compliment to Israel, and a reflection of the growing ties between China and Israel.” He said this was the “most important visit” by a Chinese official in 18 years, referring to the official visit of then-president Jiang Zemin in 2000.
Wang is a close ally of Chinese President Xi Jinping, the most powerful Chinese leader since Chairman Mao.
He arrived in Israel with two ministers, 12 deputy ministers, and a large business delegation, including Jack Ma, the co-founder and head of the Alibaba Group, one of the world’s largest e-commerce companies.
A recent article in the South China Morning Post said Wang – known for advising Xi on foreign affairs, particularly the tempestuous China-US relationship – is “involved in all the important decisions for the country.”
According to the report, Wang has been tasked with the job of expanding and elevating Israel-China bilateral ties, with a focus on hi-tech and innovation.
“This also suggests he is likely to take on a new role in helping steer forward China’s ambitious efforts to become a world-leading technological power,” the report said.
He arrived at the invitation of Netanyahu, and together they will host the fourth meeting of the China-Israel Joint Committee on Innovation Cooperation (JCIC), which will take place at the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday.
This forum meets annually, and Netanyahu attended it last year in Beijing. It was established to promote innovation cooperation in various fields and includes ministries and government agencies from the two countries, as well as leading universities and research institutions.
During the meeting, various committees will report on progress that has been made since last year, and a number of cooperation agreements will be signed.
These meetings have been held every year since 2014. In 2016, the beginning of talks toward a free-trade agreement was announced at the conference, as well as the signing of a 10-year multiple entry visa agreement for tourists and business people – something that has significantly increased tourism from China.
Last year, an arrangement allowing Chinese construction workers to work in Israel was signed, as well as the signing of a dairy products protocol that paved the way for Israeli dairy products to be exported to the Chinese market.
During his stay, Wang is also expected to meet President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday and visit the Palestinian Authority. He will also be the guest of honor on Thursday at the prime minister’s Innovation Summit, as well as appear at a ceremony inaugurating the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation. He is also scheduled to visit Yad Vashem.
Wang’s visit comes as Israeli-Chinese trade reached nearly $10 billion in 2017, more than double what it was only a decade earlier. Trade through July of this year was nearly $1.5 billion more than during a similar period in 2017.
China has also invested heavily in Israeli infrastructure projects, including the expansion of Haifa and Ashdod ports, the construction of the Carmel tunnels in Haifa, and the building of the Tel Aviv light rail. This has triggered calls in Israel for the establishment of a mechanism to review and oversee foreign investments in Israel to ensure that sensitive infrastructure is not in foreign hands.
The US has such a mechanism, called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which is an interagency committee authorized to review foreign investments in the US to determine their effect on national security.