President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi paid a four-day visit to China last week to attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics and hold a summit meeting with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
Presidential Spokesperson Bassam Radi said in a statement on 4 February that the president’s participation in the global sporting event came at the personal invitation of the Chinese president and in the light of the firm and strategic relations between Egypt and China.
Radi said that the summit meeting held between the two presidents in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People discussed the comprehensive strategic partnership between Egypt and China and the growing economic and commercial relations between the two countries, in addition to exchanging political consultations over a number of regional and international issues.
He said President Xi had stressed that China gives special importance to its relations with Egypt due to the latter’s influential role in the Middle East, Africa, and the East Mediterranean region.
The Chinese media also cited President Xi as affirming that China and Egypt share similar visions in defending their interests, pursuing common development objectives, enhancing their people’s prosperity, and promoting ideals of fairness and justice in the world as it undergoes changes unprecedented in a century.
President Xi added that the two countries would continue to support each other on issues related to core interests and major concerns.
President Al-Sisi said he hoped the summit meeting would help to attract more Chinese companies working in the fields of scientific research, the pharmaceuticals industries, the manufacture of coronavirus vaccines, as well as electric vehicles, healthcare, and information technology, among other sectors, to Egypt and tap the promising potential of its local market.
Radi said that Al-Sisi had also discussed the contribution of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to developing the Suez Canal Economic Zone and recent developments in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) dispute, the Palestinian cause, and crises in Libya, Syria, and Yemen.
Egypt and China have been actively involved in talks over Egypt’s participation in the BRI since 2015. The Chinese media have said it views Egypt as a gateway for Chinese investments in Africa. They cited President Xi as describing Egypt’s role in the BRI as reflecting the enhanced political trust between Cairo and Beijing, with Egypt becoming a model of “China-Arab, China-Africa, and China-developing world solidarity”.
“President Xi stressed that the two sides should deepen mutually beneficial cooperation and continue to dovetail the BRI with Egypt’s Vision 2030, as well as advance joint projects, particularly the development of the Suez Canal Corridor,” Radi said.
President Al-Sisi’s visit to China between 3 and 6 February was the seventh since taking office in 2014, Ahmed Said, an Egyptian expert on Chinese affairs, said in a TV interview on 4 February. He added that while former president Hosni Mubarak had visited China three times during his 30-year rule, Al-Sisi has visited China seven times since he took office in 2014.
“While some of these visits aimed to reinforce relations with a superpower like China, others came at the personal invitation of president Xi to attend international events held in China,” Said said.
Tarek Fahmi, a professor of international relations at Cairo University, agrees that Al-Sisi’s visits to China have enhanced political trust between the two countries and achieved fruitful results in the economic, commercial, and political cooperation fields.
“No Egyptian president has made such a large number of visits to China as Al-Sisi has over recent years,” Fahmi said.
Diaa Helmi, secretary-general of the Egyptian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce, told the Chinese news agency Xinhua that the visit was particularly significant as it came after the US, Canada, and Australia had announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Games over alleged human-rights abuses.
“They said they will be sending their athletes but not their officials or diplomats,” said Helmi, adding that “in reaction, China decided to invite more than 30 world leaders, including Al-Sisi, to show that it is not standing alone and that the Olympics receive overwhelming support from major world countries.”
“Al-Sisi was quick to respond to Xi’s invitation, confirming that Egypt stands by China in various situations,” he added.
Said said that President Xi had visited Cairo in 2016 — the first visit by a Chinese president in 12 years — to show support for Egypt while it was still facing a war against terrorism. In 2022, Al-Sisi was keen to respond to Xi’s invitation to also send a message of support to China.
“During these visits, they forged a close personal relationship and found in each other a reliable friend,” Said said.
In 2021, Egypt and China marked the 65th anniversary of the establishment of Egyptian-Chinese ties. In 1956, former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser decided that Egypt should become the first African and Arab state to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.
In July 2021, Al-Sisi vowed in a message to the Chinese president on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party to push Egyptian-Chinese relations to “broader horizons”.
On his first official visit to China in 2014, presidents Al-Sisi and Xi agreed a comprehensive strategic partnership, also signing a number of deals in the economic, defence, and counter-terrorism areas. In response, President Xi visited Egypt in 2016 to show political support and help the country achieve its economic reform programme.
Chinese Ambassador in Cairo Liao Liqiang said China greatly appreciates president Al-Sisi’s visit to China and Egypt’s support for his country in hosting the winter Olympic Games. “It is a sign of mutual solidarity and support, and it shows that the two countries share strong common interests,” Liqiang said.
Over the past decade, Egypt and China have forged closer relations. During President Al-Sisi’s visit to Beijing in December 2014, the two countries decided to elevate their bilateral relationship to “a comprehensive strategic partnership”.
“At that time, Egypt looked to China as a critical partner in the revitalisation of the Egyptian economy after five years of political turmoil,” said Said, adding that “now after eight years and seven visits to Beijing, Al-Sisi has found in Xi Jinping a willing and welcoming partner.”
When Egypt began to recover at the end of 2017 from the severe contraction triggered by political turmoil and the country’s economic growth rate rose to 5.6 per cent in 2019 (from 3.2 per cent in 2018), China’s involvement in the Egyptian economy increased by leaps and bounds.
“In 2022, more than 1,500 Chinese firms are registered in Egypt working in all sectors of the economy,” Said said, adding that “the China State Construction Engineering Corporation, which built the Cairo International Conference Centre 30 years ago, is currently building Egypt’s 80-storey Iconic Tower in the country’s New Administrative Capital, for example.”
Bilateral cooperation has also seen Egypt manufacture China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac coronavirus vaccines, as well as Chinese involvement in Al-Nasr Automotive’s plans to produce electric vehicles with an international partner.
Minister of Public Enterprise Hisham Tawfik said Al-Nasr Automotive is currently in advanced talks with two Chinese companies to replace Chinese company Dongfeng after talks collapsed last year, and it could sign an agreement sometime this quarter. President Al-Sisi said last month that Egypt, in cooperation with Chinese companies, is expected to start producing electric vehicles next year.
Figures released by the Central Agency for Statistics and Public Mobilisation (CAPMAS) show Egyptian exports to China achieving a remarkable increase in 2021, recording $1.3 billion during the first months of that year, compared to $583.1 million during the same period in 2020, or an increase of 118.7 per cent.
Egypt’s imports from China hit $10.7 billion during the first 10 months of 2021, compared to $9.6 billion during the same period in 2020, or an increase by 12.1 per cent.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 February, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.