INTERVIEW: China stretches its Belt to meet Egypt’s 2030 Vision

Alaa Thabet , Thursday 9 Jan 2020

The production of new energy, electric cars, communication and space technology are up for discussion to enhance economic collaboration between the two countries, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, told Al-Ahram chief editor

Wang Yi
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the capital Cairo, on January 9, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

The newly established high- tech sectors in Egypt will be the hit point of joint cooperation between China and Egypt. The production of new energy, electric cars, communication and space technology are up for discussion to enhance future economic collaboration between the two countries, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, told Al-Ahram chief editor in Cairo yesterday.

Wang landed in Cairo on Monday for a three-day visit that will include talks with Egypt’s senior officials.

The two countries, according to Wang, have a joint vision for the future. “China’s initiative for the Belt and Road and Egypt 2030 Vision have joint economic targets.” 

Recalling President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi's discussions with Chinese investors during the forum organised last year by Beijing on its initiative, Wang said “the president tried to reach consensus on pushing Egyptian-Chinese cooperation as part of this initiative.” 

At the time, El-Sisi cited Egypt’s goal of becoming a regional energy hub, which he said is underpinned by the country’s strategic location straddling the Suez Canal, the fastest shipping route between Asia and Europe.

According to Wang, economic cooperation between Beijing and Cairo has been growing steadfastly. “China is currently the biggest trade partner to Egypt and for the first time since 2013, trade between the two countries reached $13.8 billion in 2018.” 

He added that his country is committed to open up its doors for other states and is willing to cooperate to build an international economy characterised by creativity and comprehensive planning. 

For two years running, China organised an international exhibition in which Egypt took an active part. “At the time it became clear that Cairo and Beijing reject protective trade measures and are committed to multi-party trade system as they both look forward to a fair and balanced free trade,” Wang said.   

The Belt and Road initiative is said to be in line with Egypt's development goals, especially when it comes to boosting the growth of IT infrastructure, transport and energy. President El-Sisi expressed the country’s plan to turn the area around the Suez Canal into an international industrial and logistics hub, thus offering Chinese firms and countries member of the Chinese initiative promising opportunities to export to almost all African and Arab states with which Cairo has free trade agreements.

“The type of development and operating system taking place at the Suez Canal economic zone is very much in line with Cairo’s strategy for the area.” Wang said. According to him, there are six Chinese enterprises taking advantage of the region's logistical privileges since many of their products are transported to Asia, Africa and Europe. “This process of exports does not only mean bringing in a lot of hard currency but also highlighting the country’s potential as a hub among three continents,” Wang added.

Chinese firms have also been part and parcel of the building process taking place at Egypt's New Administrative Capital. Wang said those firms have been credited for their technical and executional capabilities.

“These firms have offered a lending hand to local engineering corporations, hired thousands of labourers and made better use of raw materials and the resources available in this country. This in turn has added a lot to the technical capabilities of the local firms and workers,” Wang said.

Chinese firms are also involved in several development projects like the national network of electricity transport, the underground due to be established at the 10 Ramadan city, the solar system station, as well as other transport and energy schemes. 

“So far, Chinese firms have invested more than $7 billion in Egypt, creating 30,000 job opportunities in the fields of energy, infrastructure, farming, and industry. There are also some 1,560 Chinese firms currently registered in Egypt, which will boost the ongoing cooperation and coordination between the two sides in line with Cairo’s vision for development,” China’s minister of foreign affairs said.  

As far as tourism is concerned, no more than half a million Chinese travellers visit Egypt every year, which is a small figure compared to the number of Chinese tourists who travel worldwide. Yet, Wang believes that Chinese vacationers mostly opt to travel to neighbouring states for tourism.

In  the past few years, nonetheless, China has been encouraging its people to travel to other destinations, Egypt included. 

“The past three years have thus witnessed an annual average growth rate of Chinese tourists to Egypt by 30 percent, which is a remarkable development if one takes into consideration the growth rate worldwide,” Wang said. 

Such development echoes the vast potential of tourism cooperation between China and Egypt as the two countries have been promoting and offering premium tourism packages, he added.

Despite the fact that Beijing has always been siding with the Arab and Muslim causes at the international arena, China’s minister of foreign affairs lamented what he described as a politically driven campaign against his country on the Muslim issue in the Xinjiang province.

Wang said, “Xinjiang is home to 25 million people who belong to a number of ethnic groups, including the Han, Uyghur and Kazakhs, Mongols, Tibetans and Russians. Muslims form almost 60 percent of the province’s total population, and they enjoy ‘regional autonomy’ in accordance with China’s minority system.

Almost 62.1 percent of the parliament is made up of Chinese minorities and they also form 46.7 percent of the Political Consultancy Conference."

“In Xinjiang, there are more than 24,000 mosques which practically mean that there is a mosque for every 350 Muslims, and there is also an institute for Islamic studies as well as 10 religious institutes and about 100 religious associations,” Wang said.

China’s first border "free trade zone" is located at Xinjiang- Kazakhstan border city of Horgos which is the largest "land port" in the country’s western region. According to Wang, the province made a great economic leap as it has been able to increase the size of its economy 200 times between 1952 and 2018. Xinjiang enjoys a nominal GDP of $932.4 billion as of 2015, with an average annual increase of 10.4 percent for the past four years due to the discovery of abundant reserves of coal, oil and gas.

But Wang referred to the serious situation in Xinjiang where extremists have been trying to radicalise the ethnic communities there. 

“Between 1990 and 2016, Xinjiang has been fighting radical groups through centres of rehabilitation and education, and thus for the past three years the province has not witnessed a single violent incident.” Wang said, adding that Xinjiang's successful experience in eradicating extremism was hailed by 60 countries including 30 Muslim states. According to Wang, the target of this campaign is to drive a wedge between China and its Muslim partners all over the world.

Beijing is sure, however, that such efforts will go unheeded.

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