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Senate legislation would expand COVID-19 projects with Israel to lessen dependence on China

(JTA) — The Senate has introduced legislation to enhance partnerships between American and Israeli companies on COVID-19 projects, thus lessening U.S. dependence on China for life-saving medications and treatments.

The bipartisan legislation was introduced on Wednesday as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, on a whirlwind eight-hour visit to Israel, criticized China while praising Israel.

“You’re a great partner,” Pompeo said in an appearance with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before their meeting in Jerusalem. “You share your information, unlike some other countries that try and obfuscate and hide information. And we’ll talk about that country, too.”

The U.S. has pressed Israel to reconsider allowing Chinese investment in national projects, including work on the Haifa Port, where the U.S. Sixth Fleet is anchored, and building the Sorek 2 water desalination plant on the Mediterranean coast in central Israel.

Following Pompeo’s visit to Israel, a senior State Department official told reporters that China is “not a reliable partner,” and that while Pompeo doesn’t have a problem with countries having relationships or trading with China, the pandemic is different.

“I think COVID sort of highlights the dangers of dealing with states that are not transparent, that don’t have fair trade practices, that really leverage and torque their trade to leverage certain things out of their trade partners,” the official said.

He indicated that there are security issues in dealing with Chinese companies, which he said are not independent. The official added: “I think it’s important for us as allies, strategic partners to be able to discuss the type of threats and the types of ways to mitigate those kind of threats.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, introduced the bill, titled The Expanding Medical Partnerships with Israel to Lessen Dependence on China Act, with Chris Coons, D-Del., and six other senators, Republicans and Democrats.

“Our dependence on China for life-saving medications and treatments is deeply problematic,” Cruz said in a statement Wednesday. “We’re now seeing leaders of the Chinese Communist Party – in the midst of a public health crisis they allowed to go global and endanger millions – threaten to withhold live-saving medical supplies and medications from the United States. By expanding partnerships with Israel – an ally and a global leader in medicine – to develop coronavirus treatments, this legislation is a common sense step to address that threat.”