Speaking to reporters in Jerusalem on Monday, US Energy Secretary Rick Perry specifically voiced alarm over the possibility of Chinese investment in Israel being used as an instrument to boost Beijing’s intelligence-gathering capabilities.
“The thing we try to impress upon all of our allies is that there are areas that China is involved with, particularly with the collection of information, that we have great concern about. The cybersecurity side of things [is] the bigger issue," Perry said.
Referring to Israel, he said that Washington wants its allies “to be knowledgeable about the activities that the Chinese are involved with.” Perry said he hoped that the Israeli leadership would “make the right decisions about any investments.”
“There’s a difference between somebody coming in and investing, and the issue of cybersecurity and the collection of information that will go back and be given to the Communist Chinese government,” he added.
Perry spoke after the US Senate Armed Services Committee reportedly voiced “serious security concerns” last month over a contract stipulating a Chinese company’s operation in the Israeli port of Haifa. The port has regularly hosted US-Israeli drills and has long been used as a docking point for the US Sixth Fleet.
According to the newspaper Haaretz, the committee passed a special bill calling on Washington to “urge the government of Israel to consider the security implications of foreign investment” in the Jewish state. The bill did not directly mention China.
Earlier, the Jerusalem Post quoted retired US Admiral Gary Roughead as saying that “the Chinese [Haifa] port operators will be able to monitor closely US ship movements”, something that may prompt the US Navy to dock its warships elsewhere.
“Significantly, the information systems and new infrastructure integral to the ports and the likelihood of information and electronic surveillance systems jeopardise US information and cybersecurity”, Roughead claimed.
The warning came after US President Trump reportedly urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in April to sever his country’s ties with China or face repercussions.
“If you don't limit the Chinese penetration into Israel, security cooperation with the US will be harmed," Trump was quoted by Israeli Channel 13 network as saying.
His warning was preceded by similar statements made by National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this year, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly assuring them that his security cabinet will try to pass a decision on forming a new government mechanism to oversee Chinese investments in Israel.
US’ Clampdown on Huawei
All this comes amid Washington’s security-related crackdown on the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, part of the current US-China trade spat over tariffs which has been simmering since June 2018.
Both Huawei and Beijing have repeatedly denied the US’ accusations that the Chinese tech giant is helping Beijing steal commercial secrets and collect personal data.
The US Ministry of Commerce placed Huawei on its blacklist in May, but a month later President Trump eased the grip by allowing Huawei to buy products from US high tech companies which “will not impact our national security”.