Monday, February 8, 2010

Quite apart from the implications of China's growing influence in the global economy, China's politics, both domestic and foreign, clash directly with Western concerns in areas from democracy to the rights of individuals and minorities to (especially when it comes to Iran's race to acquire nuclear weapons) the security of Europe and the Middle East.  

China is also interested in the Jews. It has had diplomatic relations with Israel since 1992, and Jerusalem has risked Washington's displeasure to maintain its military ties with Beijing. And China's interest extends beyond Israel, to Jewish civilization as a whole. Chinese scholars and academics seek to understand Judaism as a religion. More strikingly, the booming sales of Why Jews Are So Successful, a recently translated volume, suggest that the mystique of Jewish wealth and power exercises a strong hold on the Chinese imagination.

The regime actively supports this curiosity. It has established a substantial research center in Harbin, where several waves of Russian-speaking Jewish refugees found refuge in the early 20th century; at several Chinese universities, Jewish studies is an expanding field. Even as Beijing steadfastly pursues its other economic and diplomatic interests in the Arab Middle East, not to mention its links with the Muslim world at large, the regime clearly hopes that "the Jews" will reciprocate its interest in Judaism by mobilizing their well-known lobby to help smooth its relationship with Washington.

How should "the Jews" respond? In the judgment of some scholars, real and fruitful affinities exist between the world's "two oldest civilizations." Be that as it may, a yawning gulf separates both Israel and Judaism from the powerfully repressive and expansionist brand of authoritarianism exemplified, and championed, by today's China. Whatever opportunities may exist for common ventures, the risks are commensurately grave.

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