Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer's recent visit to China was highlighted by an unexpected surprise. The city of Shenzhen, which he visited, declared it regards Israel as a country with which it would like to explore technological cooperation, after initiating a seminar calling Chinese companies to invest in Israel. Not even the United States or South Korea were singled out in this way.
Shenzhen is not alone. The hi-tech fair held in Tianjin this year showcased the Israeli flag, which is the only foreign flag to appear in the event's website.
Israel and China collaborate in virtually every field known to man apart from agriculture, from scientific research to financial prioritization. Chinese mega companies acquire knowledge in Israel and have been known to buy Israeli technological companies.
Why? What is it about Israel that fascinates the Chinese?
China is quickly approaching the longed-for status of being a leading world power. Its purchasing power is enormous, its foreign currency reserves are unmatched. Put together with an overwhelming capability for production it is a country some expect to surpass the US in economic power within a decade.
The Chinese economy heads know that the country's great economic power relies on mass production, which is made possible due to organizational skills, governmental support and cheap labor. But these are not enough to make a leading world power, which also needs to show top technological abilities.
That is why China is putting effort into developing biotech and hi-tech industries by setting up knowledge centers, training hundreds of thousands of engineers and funding technological projects. The one element missing in this grand scheme is innovation. Why?
Culture of modesty, hierarchy
In a word – modesty. The Chinese people are too modest and that inhibits them from engaging in effective team work without having their egos be in the way. Modesty also prevents the Chinese worker from standing up to others in the work place, coming up with new ideas, initiating, solving problems alone and eventually leading innovation.
A study held in China this year shows that the main attributes lacking in the Chinese worker are interpersonal communication skills, problem solving and decision making. The two last ones are critical in terms of development and innovation and prevent the worker from expressing new lines of thought, leaving the task solely to the senior executive. One person, however cannot be the sole source of ideas and innovation.
The Chinese culture is a culture of modesty and respect for the elder. It does not encourage forwardness and boldness, but the complete opposite. It holds hierarchy in high regard and shuns criticism. This causes a situation where all responsibility is placed on the higher ranks which leads to conservatism, lack of imagination and original thinking.
That is where Israel comes into the picture.
Hotbed for innovation
In 1988, during my bachelor degree studies I handed in a paper about Taoism in which I basically disagreed with everything my professor said during the course of the semester. I ended up getting an A+. This is what my professor wrote to me: "I disagree with your conclusions but I appreciate the way you formed them and the daring way in which you approached the project."
Such a response could never have happened in a Chinese university and illustrates what Israel has that China lacks. Israel, with its low level of discipline and high measure of individuality and ego, is a perfect hotbed for innovation and is one of two world centers of innovation, together with California.
It is no surprise that the Pillcam capsule or the ICQ software were developed in Israel, alongside many innovations in the field of electronic warfare, communications and medicine. Israel is a culture of informality and out-of-the-box thinking. In some cases it's an advantage and in others a disadvantage.
That is why the Chinese are so fascinated with Israel and why the city of Shenzhen is so interested in pursuing technological collaborations with Israel.
Being a source of innovation for what will soon become the leading economy in the world is much more than a goldmine. China will give the Israeli economy one of its biggest opportunities.
Tal Reshef is an advisor and lecturer for business and culture and trains employees and executives for relocation
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