“Innovate the Future” was the theme of a December 27 forum at Tel Aviv University, where dozens of entrepreneurs, thought leaders and innovators from China and Israel gathered to discuss tech links between the two countries.

Hosted by Chinese media group Caixin, which sent a delegation to visit Israel and its leading tech firms, the forum highlighted the fact that China is now Israel’s largest trading partner to the tune of $11.4 billion annually.

Chinese investment in Israel stands at around $6 billion, while Israeli investment in China is about $1 billion.

Caixin Editor-in-Chief Hu Shuli said China is especially interested in Israel’s tech innovation and talent in fields such as cybersecurity, agriculture, artificial intelligence and Internet of Things. 

The event included a dialogue between Caixin’s Yue Yue and legendary Israeli entrepreneur Yossi Vardiwho has founded dozens of companies and is credited with launching Israel’s startup boom.

Vardi has been visiting China since 1995 and recently organized an Israeli innovation festival there. He shared thoughts on criteria for investment – looking at team talent more than the business plan – and how failure can be a driver for success.

Representatives of the new Guangdong Technion Israel Institute of Technology (GTIIT), a cooperative academic and research center for engineering, science and life science in China, told attendees that 60 percent of GTIIT’s faculty will come from the Technion, exposing thousands of Chinese undergraduates to Israeli technology expertise.

Participants talked about Israeli chutzpah characterized by a willingness to take risks – which gives Israelis an entrepreneurial edge but isn’t always understood in China’s more reserved culture.

Eytan Schwartz, CEO at Tel Aviv Global, predicted that despite cultural and regulatory differences, Israeli and Chinese businesses may one day enter other foreign markets together rather than simply engaging in acquisitions.

Amos Avner, founding partner at StartupEast – a platform leading Israeli startups into Asian markets – says the forum was practical and constructive thanks to “the direct dialogue between policymakers from both sides.”