Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Australia and Israel should be partners in Asia

In a changing strategic landscape, likeminded countries have the chance to identify and grasp new opportunities.

Australia and Israel should be partners in Asia
Published 21 Feb 2020 

The rise of Asia and growing superpower competition pose serious challenges for countries such as Australia and Israel, and they should face them together. On the one hand, Asia’s economic dynamism offers access to new and growing markets; on the other hand, changing regional dynamics in Asia have led to an increasingly complex strategic outlook. These developments make real and active cooperation between Australia and Israel more important than ever.

Australia and Israel have enjoyed a close bilateral relationship despite the geographic distance, but Asia has not been a focus. The state visit by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to Australia this week presents an opportunity to broaden the Australia-Israel relationship in ways that can be useful to both countries.

Australia already serves as an effective launching pad for some cutting-edge Israeli technologies into growing Asian markets, but cooperation could be taken a step further.

Like Australia, Israel views the US as its closest and most important strategic ally. But today, both countries are facing an unfamiliar challenge, not only having to deal with the implications of China’s rise to superpower status and its growing economic clout, but also with a United States that is less predictable. Added to this is a growing sense of strategic rivalry between the US and China.

China has become substantially more active in the Middle East in recent years, particularly through the Belt and Road Initiative. China’s economic engagement with Israel has grown considerably, including Chinese investments in strategic infrastructure and technology. China has also become more active in promoting Chinese culture and soft power in Israel.

These developments have raised alarm in Washington, and are becoming a growing irritant between Israel and the United States. This trend is likely to continue regardless of who the next US president will be, highlighting the need for Israel to develop an independent, long-term strategic policy regarding its relationship with China.

But unlike in Australia, where the rise of China and its implications have featured prominently in government reports and policy papers, as well as in the media and in public debates, Israel is only now beginning to grapple with the implications of China assuming superpower status, and how this will play out in the Middle East and Asia.

Australia has a long history of engagement with Asia and has also experienced difficulties in managing the complexities of China’s rise. Australia’s experiences can play an important role in informing Israeli policy and decision-making regarding China’s growing involvement in the Middle East. Both countries can work closely together to manage the risks and challenges that arise from the growing superpower competition between the United States and China.

But the present global and regional geopolitical uncertainty creates new opportunities as well. Australia, Israel, and other likeminded countries should identify and grasp the new opportunities that this changing landscape presents.

Australia already serves as an effective launching pad for some cutting-edge Israeli technologies into growing Asian markets, but cooperation could be taken a step further by both countries joining forces to create new opportunities particularly around innovation and development across South-East Asia.

Likewise, in the Middle East, Australia can work with Israel to play a leading role in supporting regional stability and strengthening the growing coalition against Iran. One way to do so could be through initiating multilateral projects in the region, which would bring together Gulf states and other countries as well as Israel. The Dubai Expo, which will take place later this year, will, for the first time, host an Israeli pavilion and officially allow Israelis to visit despite the fact that the United Arab Emirates and Israel have no formal diplomatic relations. This presents a unique opportunity for launching new initiatives in areas of common interest such as environmental sustainability.

The rise of Asia and ongoing superpower rivalry are likely to affect countries like Australia and Israel the most. Australian and Israeli leaders should seize the initiative and launch a new era of active cooperation.

You may also be interested in