Set up in the early 1980s to take over domestic security from the armed forces, the PAP has been derided for much of its history as undisciplined. The units proved unfit to handle the Tiananmen Square democracy demonstrations in 1989, forcing the Communist Party to call in the People’s Liberation Army.
In the past decade, the government has launched a full-force upgrade. It now has rapid-response, counterterrorism, anti-hijacking and other specialized units.
Nicholas Bequelin, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch, said PAP units engaged in “widespread abuses” in putting down a mass Tibetan uprising in 2008, using live ammunition against unarmed protesters, disappearances and other acts of disproportionate brutality.
He said the Israeli training “must include a human rights component, such as the principle of proportionate use of force.”
Israeli officials rejected any notion of wrongdoing, saying that all cooperation was “transparent” and done with the full knowledge of the U.S. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a sensitive diplomatic issue.
The Chinese Embassy in Tel Aviv did not respond to a request for comment.
According to Israeli diplomats and analysts, the interests on both sides are clear. Israel has a strong interest in getting closer to a rising world power, while China is interested in Israeli military and technological know-how.
“I’m sure Israel does whatever it can to let the Chinese know that despite limitations on military transfers, Israel still has a strong will to attain good relations,” said Yoram Evron, a China expert at Haifa University and the Institute for National Security Studies, a Tel Aviv think tank.
He said he believes the warming ties were initiated by the Chinese, who were caught off guard by the Arab Spring protests convulsing the region in the past year and a half.
An Israeli diplomat involved in Asian affairs said the security ties are part of a larger blossoming of relations. China is now Israel’s third-largest trade partner, after the European Union and United States. Bilateral trade exceeded $8 billion last year, roughly 20 percent higher than the previous year.
While those figures are minuscule for China, the diplomat noted that China is very interested in some key industries in which Israel has expertise. He cited Israeli water technologies in agriculture, desalination and wastewater management.
He said Israel has signed number of trade agreements with China in recent years, including a new scholarship program to bring 250 Chinese university students to Israel annually. It also has expanded its diplomatic presence in China with a new consulate in the city of Guangzhou, and another one set to open in Chengdu next year.
Israeli officials acknowledged their motives go beyond trade. They said they routinely raise concerns about Iran’s nuclear program with China, which is both a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and which relies on Iran for roughly 10 percent of its oil supply.
Israel, like the West, believes Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb, and has hinted it will attack Iran if it concludes that international diplomatic efforts to stop Iran have failed. An Israeli attack could disrupt the flow of oil and send global energy prices skyrocketing, a nightmare scenario for China.