Meeting in Cairo this week, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri and his Chinese counterpart Qin Gang underlined the two countries’ desire to bolster cooperation.
The tour came at a very time when both China and Egypt understand that stronger Chinese relations with Egypt, the Arab world and the African continent are required, noted Diaa Helmi, secretary-general of the Egyptian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce.
“That the visit came shortly after the first Arab-China summit [held last month in Riyadh] underlines that a new phase of stronger and deeper relations and coordination between China and the region is in the making,” he told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Egyptian-Chinese relations have been gaining momentum since 2014, and cooperation in various fields, including roads and trade, has grown, which explains why Egypt was included in the first foreign tour of China’s newly appointed chief diplomat, notes Al-Sayed Amin Shalabi, chairman of the Egyptian Council on Foreign Affairs.
Shalabi explained that since 2014 Egypt’s foreign policy has aimed to diversify and widen foreign relations and “the holding of the Riyadh summit last month underlined the importance of relations with China,” he told the Weekly.
During his meeting with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, Qin stressed Beijing’s desire to increase its investments in local infrastructure projects, including those related to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. President Al-Sisi, in turn, underlined that Cairo is committed to strengthening cooperation with China.
In the press conference held after their meeting, Shoukri and Qin described mutual relations as “profound”.
The two diplomats also discussed increasing Chinese tourism to Egypt. Qin said that the number of tourist and direct flights between the two countries is expected to rise to pre-pandemic levels. Around half a million Chinese tourists visited Egypt in 2018, according to Asia Times website.
Egypt’s tourism sector, which used to be an important source of income, has witnessed numerous setbacks; the coronavirus pandemic and the war between Ukraine and Russia have had negative impacts.
Regional issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, were also addressed by Shoukri and Qin. The return of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to office last month at the head of the most rightwing and religiously conservative government Israel, has further complicated the issues and raised tensions.
Qin called “on the relevant parties to abide by UN resolutions related to the Palestinian cause and to preserve the historical status quo of Al-Quds”. He reiterated calls for a two-state solution on the principle of land for peace.
Helmi says China has always played a supporting role when it comes to the Palestinian and other Arab issues and expects Beijing to play a bigger role in resolving the Palestinian issue in the future.
Qin held a separate meeting with Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abul-Gheit during his stop in Cairo.
Egypt was the last leg of Qin’s first tour abroad since he came to office last month. The tour also took him to Ethiopia, Gabon, Angola, and Benin.
Political commentators noted that Qin’s African tour came just weeks after US President Joe Biden held a US-African summit during which he hosted dozens of African leaders in Washington and pledged government and private funding to contribute to the development of the continent, including in the fields of health, infrastructure, business, and technology.
“We can’t solve any of the really big challenges we face if we don’t work together. So, it’s about what we can do with African nations and people, not for them,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told participants at the summit.
“China and the US are competing for influence in Africa. Trade and investment are the top priorities for both sides. While enhancing bilateral relations with Egypt and African states was the main aim of Qin’s visit, gaining more ground on the continent was another important target,” said Shalabi.
China has invested billions of dollars in Egyptian state-led projects such as the Suez Canal Economic Zone and the New Administrative Capital. According to an IMF report issued last week, Egypt is set to receive a $1 billion loan from the China Development Bank during fiscal year 2022-23 to help close its financing gap.
China’s president visited Egypt in 2016. The Egyptian and Chinese presidents also met on the sidelines of the opening of the Beijing Olympic games in February, and at the Riyadh summit in December.
According to China Briefing website, over the last 25 years China’s exports to Egypt have expanded at an annual rate of 14.4 per cent, reaching $13.3 billion in 2020. Egypt’s exports to China have grown at an average rate of 17.9 per cent over the same period, reaching $754 million in 2020.
China has invested heavily in infrastructure in African countries, including roads, energy infrastructure, telecommunications, railways and hospitals. According to the Chinese General Administration of Customs, in the first three months of 2022 trade between China and Africa reached $65 billion, a 23 per cent increase over the same period in 2021.
During the coronavirus pandemic, China raced to provide vaccines to Africa which suffered from a severe shortage in vaccine supplies. China also funded the construction of new headquarters for the African Centre for Disease Control in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 January, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.