Rekindling the flames——China-Egypt relations taking on a new lease of life

By He Wenping
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail ChinAfrica, June 13, 2016
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On May 30, 1956, Egypt became the first Arab and African nation to recognize and establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. Fifty years later, in November 2006, the half-century anniversary of the establishment of China-Egypt and China-Africa diplomatic relations was commemorated at the Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), where eight initiatives to reinforce China-Africa cooperation were proposed. Fittingly, in honor of the 60th anniversary of the establishment of China-Egypt diplomatic relations, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first state visit in 2016 included Egypt, indicating a new historical starting point from which bilateral relations will be further deepened.

Friends in need

The friendship between China and Egypt dates back to the Bandung Conference in 1955, when then Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai and Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser laid the foundation for the relationship. Since the establishment of diplomatic ties, bilateral cooperation has been reinforced and has withstood the test of changing international situations.

Sixty years ago, China supported Egypt’s fight against British and French military interference to restore Cairo’s sovereignty over the Suez Canal. When Egyptians were fighting for stability and development after the turbulence of the "Arab Spring," China gave the nation its strong support. Facts are the best indicators of true friendship. Bilateral trade increased by 26.5 percent year on year, totaling $8.8 billion in 2011 even when Egypt’s economy was severely damaged by political instability. In the same year, China’s direct investment in Egypt amounted to $82.8 million, an increase of 60.4 percent from the previous year.

As a regional power in the Middle East and North Africa, Egypt has been playing a significant role in promoting China’s relations with the African continent and Arab nations. A collective dialogue platform between China and Arab countries was initiated when the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum was established at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo in 2004. In November 2009, Egypt presided over the Fourth Ministerial Conference of the FOCAC at its coastal city of Sharm el Sheikh. China and Egypt established a comprehensive strategic partnership at the end of 2014. In September 2015, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi made his second visit to China during his presidency and attended the commemorative military parade at the 70th Anniversary of Victory of Chinese People’s Resistance against Japanese Aggression and World Anti-Fascist War. Egyptian soldiers formed the only African and Arabian formation at the victory day parade at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, showcasing the enduring and staunch friendship between the two countries.

New start, new chapter

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Egypt at the beginning of 2016 opened a new chapter in China-Egypt friendship by reinforcing political and diplomatic mutual trust and strengthening economic cooperation.

Politically and diplomatically, the two sides exchanged views on state governance as well as policies and positions on major international and regional issues of common concern. Both the presidents reiterated that they would support each other to safeguard mutual core interests, adhere to a comprehensive strategic partnership and maintain the political consultation mechanism between the foreign ministries of the two countries. Xi also invited Sisi to attend the G20 Summit to be held in Hangzhou, capital city of east China’s Zhejiang Province, in September.

During his visit to Egypt, President Xi delivered a speech at the Arab League headquarters, elaborating China’s policy on Arab states. The policy focuses on fostering regional peace and stability, conducting win-win cooperation under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, and contributing to solving the Palestinian issue in a just and reasonable way. Xi stressed that China will promote peace talks in the region. He also said China will neither seek any sphere of influence nor attempt to fill any "vacuum" in the region, but promote building a cooperative partnership for the reestablishment of a prosperous Arab region. China will also promote cultural exchanges and mutual learning with Arab states. China’s stand was welcomed by Arab countries and the international community.

Economic cooperation was highlighted under the framework of a comprehensive strategic partnership and the Belt and Road Initiative. During Xi’s visit, 21 bilateral deals totaling $10 billion were signed to strengthen cooperation in areas like power supply, infrastructure construction, trade, energy, finance, aerospace, culture, technology and climate change. The deals include a $2.7-billion package to build Egypt’s new administrative capital, a $1-billion loan, and bilateral cooperation in infrastructure through the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. These will spearhead future China-Egypt cooperation and take bilateral trade and economic cooperation to new heights.

As ancient civilizations with long histories, China and Egypt have splendid cultures. President Xi said these two great civilizations should strengthen people-to-people exchanges and consolidate public support for bilateral ties in his speech at the ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of China-Egypt diplomatic relations.

An exemplary model

As a transcontinental country spanning Asia and Africa, and facing Europe across the Mediterranean Sea, Egypt is a key nation along the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road. China’s Belt and Road Initiative can be well conjoined with Egypt’s Suez Canal Corridor Project. Egypt’s demand for economic development and China’s economic restructuring can create opportunities for bilateral cooperation in infrastructure and industrial development.

China and Egypt are complementary in terms of natural resources, industrial structures and industrialization, creating great potential for economic partnership. The two sides, therefore, can be frontrunners and exemplary models of cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative. Egypt has rich labor resources, an advantageous geographic location and a well-educated population, but is poor in infrastructure, weak in manufacturing, and insufficient in industrial capacity and foreign exchange reserve. In comparison, China, as the second largest economy, has abundant foreign exchange, powerful investment ability and rich experiences and expertise that can be shared with Egypt to promote industrialization.

The two sides pledged to deepen cooperation on increasing industrial capacity and determined the first batch of key projects during Sisi’s visit to China in September 2015. On January 21, 2016, the State Grid Corp. of China and Egyptian Ministry of Electricity and Energy wrapped up a 5.1-billion-yuan ($784 million) deal to increase Egypt’s power supply in the Nile Delta and the region south of the delta. It is the first project under the framework of China-Egypt cooperation on industrial capacity. When the project is completed, Egypt’s national power supply network and safety will be strengthened.

Egypt announced its Suez Canal Corridor Project in 2014. It will build the area along the 190-km canal into an international economic hub integrating harbor, logistics, trade zones and industrial parks. The China-Egypt Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone, located at the Gulf of Suez, is part of the project and will play a significant role in promoting bilateral strategic cooperation, facilitating industrial transfers, and fostering Egyptian economic development. The zone has attracted most of the Chinese businesses investing in Egypt, including Jushi Egypt for Fiberglass Industry, which has invested $223 million.

From the establishment of a power supply network to fiberglass production, from promoting traffic connectivity to strengthening industrial cooperation, China and Egypt show common ground in their strategic goals and development philosophy. In the future, more economic momentum will be injected into the bilateral ties.

The author is a senior research fellow at the Charhar Institute and a research fellow at the Institute of West-Asian and African Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.


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