Strategic Advisor to The Consul General of Israel in Shanghai, Yossi Ben Shitrit, Talks Israel-China Relations, Innovation, And More.
How did you become involved with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Israel? And what is your role on a day-to-day basis?
My career commenced in the innovative start-up industry, specifically in strategic business development positions where the focus was opening new markets in Asia. As part of this, one of my efforts was to research and understand the main “flops” in previous relations between Israeli startups and the Asian Market, and to build a new approach that will, potentially, build long terms success stories. The vast growing interest that China is showing in Israel as a startup and innovative nation led me to focus on this country. Thereafter, I was recruited by the Consul General of Israel as the first strategic advisor in order to build a practical and efficient system for Israel-China relations.
With regards to my role, part of it is creating a strategic road map with annual goals, and decomposing each goal into practical steps that should be accomplished along the way. One of my objectives is the recognition of global Forbes ranking billionaires in the 5 Chinese provinces that the consulate oversees. And not just recognition, but exploring the Chinese market and understanding what is occurring here. If you look at the Forbes 500 Billionaires list, a large chunk of them are Chinese and are located in our territories–which makes it easy for us to reach out to them and start a conversation about providing value via relevant Israeli resources.
Prior to any initial meet-and-greets, I conduct in-depth research with my team about the people on the list and their companies, extracting any and all useful information. Once everything is mapped-out, the goal is to meet with them, and create a value chain for them: identifying their needs while taking into consideration previous market failures, therefore, providing long-term support through pertinent resources in Israel. Essentially, the job is all about matchmaking.
Another big project that the Consul General and I have been leading is the official “China-Israel Innovation Hub” in Shanghai. This idea was built in order to aid Israeli companies in establishing and developing themselves here, in China. This project is part of Shanghai Mayor, Yin Yong’s initiative. As a part of his plan to strengthen scientific and technological cooperation with Israel, both China and Israel are emphasizing the importance to build this hub, and to build a more sustainable and valuable relationship.
In brief, what is the current status of Israel’s relationship with China?
Diplomatic relations between China and Israel only began in 1992 (just 27 years ago). However, today’s relationship between the two nations is the best it’s ever been. The image of Israel, and the Jewish people, is highly appreciated in China. Many Chinese associate Israel and the Jewish people with innovation and ingenuity, and it’s incredible that in a land of 1.4 billion people, Israel is so well known. Many companies and VC firms are looking to invest in Israeli technologies. Also, many business and governmental delegation are becoming more and more present in Israel as the interest in innovation and cooperation with Israel among the Chinese grows.
The desire of the Chinese people is to create significant value from their relationship with Israel, and now is the best time to take advantage of this relationship. However, it does require strategic thinking in order to generate the desired value for both sides.
In your opinion, what is the future of the Israel-China relationship?
Since there are so many variables at play, it is difficult to predict trends; however, if I were to look at what the atmosphere would resemble three years from now, I would anticipate China to make bigger investments in its own innovation.
In light of the recent trade wars, it’s clear that China is one of the biggest players in the world, and trade is something that Israel and China must work on in order to exploit as much potential as possible between both nations. It all starts with understanding culture— language, values, history, and more.
The bottom line is that, in the eyes of the Chinese, Israel has the technology, China has the market, so for both countries this is the “ultimate” partnership. Many elements in the middle need to be worked out in order to make things happen on both ends of the spectrum, but I believe that as time passes, China and Israel will form a closer bond, and achieve more together.
What’s a fun or interesting fact you’ve learned over time about business culture/etiquette in China?
What amazes me the most about Chinese business culture is the attention to detail, and the importance of interpersonal relations within the context of each project. In china, business culture is quite different than western. From my experience, Chinese hospitality is very impressive––they know how to give you the best experience, and to make you feel as comfortable as possible. In China, the common belief is that in order to succeed in business, one must first get to know the person.
Another interesting fact has to do with food. As a Jew, I only eat kosher food. Because of this, many people told me that it would be difficult for me in China, as food is a very big part of the culture, especially business culture. However, because of the limited option for me to eat, all eyes turn to me over the dinner table (why is this guy eating cucumbers and not pork like the rest of us?), I become the main topic of conversation. This becomes a great opportunity for me to present an interesting angle of the Jewish culture and religion, which creates a climate of care and understanding.