After serving for less than two months, China’s Ambassador to Israel, Du Wei, was found dead inside his official residence Sunday morning. Authorities announced that the 57-year old ambassador’s death was due to natural causes, unexpected health problems. Media reports said according to an initial assessment, Du appears to have died of a cardiac arrest, but there was no official confirmation. Israeli police on Sunday said it had opened an investigation.
On Monday, China sent a special team to investigate Du’s death. The team will also coordinate flying arrangements for the body and will be accompanied by a representative of the family. Ambassador Du’s wife and son were not in Israel at the time of his death. The team will not be required to observe the 14-day quarantine incumbent upon all travelers entering the country.
The Chinese government told media outlets in the country that Du “apparently died of natural causes but it is necessary to examine all the details.”
His arrival on February 15 to take up hs duties came in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and Du self-quarantined for two weeks upon arriving.
His arrival came at a turbulent time for relations between Israel and China and his death even more so. The Chinese Embassy’s spokesperson, Wang Yongjun wrote an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post on Friday, two days before Du’s death, calling Pompeo’s claims and comments “absurd.”
“Historical experience also shows that pandemic is accompanied by conspiracies and the dark mentality of seeking scapegoats,” Yongjun wrote. “Jewish friends know it well.”
“We trust that the Jewish friends are not only able to defeat the coronavirus but also the ‘political virus’ and choose the course of action that best serves their interests.”
In fact, it is believed that Pompeo’s whirlwind one day visit to Israel last Wednesday was focused on rallying Israel’s support in a trade war with China. While the Trump administration is trying to deflect trade away from China, Israel has a healthy economic relationship and several major projects underway. The China Railway Tunnel Group is currently building Tel Aviv’s new light rail along with Israeli company Solel Boneh. Chinese firms took over the Israeli food giant Tnuva in 2014 and have deals to manage the key Haifa and Ashdod ports.
In a similar deal, Hon Kong-based Hutchison Water International reached the final stage of the tender to build the $1.5 billion Sorek B plant, set to be the largest desalination facility in the world. The company that wins the bid would build the plant and operate it for 25 years. Media reports claim that the Trump administration expressed concern over Hutchison being awarded the contract. The Israeli ministry of finance is expected to announce the winner in the tender on May 24th. It is unclear whether the U.S. intervention could lead to a postponement.
Despite having a huge financial imprint globally, China has relatively little impact on the Israeli economy and if forced to choose, there is no doubt Israel will support the US. Exports to China are infinitely smaller in volume than Israeli exports to the US. Over the past five years, only 4% of the investment in Israeli tech industries were from China, and only 3% of merger and acquisition deals among Israeli start-ups are with Chinese companies.
These dealings with China have raised security concerns inside Israel. In January of last year, the head of the Shin Bet security service warned that massive Chinese investment in Israel could pose a danger to national security. Chinese firms stand accused of stealing intellectual material and technology through such economic cooperation, a major concern to tech-heavy Israeli firms.
In addition to being a natural ally of the US, Israel is heavily dependent on US support of the potential annexation of Judea and Samaria that was part of the agreement that created the unity government currently being formed.