Eastern Winds of Change: A Guide to Egyptian-Chinese Relations

Eastern Winds of Change: A Guide to Egyptian-Chinese Relations

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (left) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, September 3, 2018. | Photo credit: The Arab Weekly

Cairo has always mastered the art of political acrobatics, playing off East and West against each other for its own gain. During the Cold War, it was former President Gamal Abd El-Nasser who first “shocked the West by approaching the Soviet Union, buying military equipment via Czechoslovakia and raising fears of a race armaments in the Middle East,” according to Foreign Policy.

Six decades later, Cairo is once again seeking to strengthen Eastern ties with Beijing while maintaining a complex relationship with Western allies and the United States.

Earlier this month, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, in Beijing to take stock of the state of bilateral relations between Egypt and China. The two leaders discussed a myriad of political and economic issues in a bid to enhance the ongoing cooperation.

China and Egypt have ‘shared similar visions and strategies in defending their own interests’, Chinese leader Xi Jinping said on President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s seventh visit to the Chinese capital since taking office in 2014.

According to the Associated Press in Beijing, the meeting comes at a good time as al-Sisi’s government seeks to strengthen Chinese relations amid heightened scrutiny by the United States and Western states over the Egyptian government’s poor record. in matters of human rights.

Under Al-Sissi’s leadership, Egyptian-Chinese relations continue to intensify bilateral cooperation. This implies cooperation on the political, economic and security dimensions.

“Chinese investments in Egypt include a $1.8 billion cooperation portfolio that includes many development projects in the areas of electricity, health, education and vocational training,” confirms Mahmoud Sultan, financial analyst and professor at Cairo University.

However, a recent report by the Middle East Institute (MEI) indicates that China-Egypt economic cooperation is gaining momentum in recent years. According to the MEI, “constructing infrastructure and improving manufacturing production capacity have become the most important features of China-Egypt economic cooperation.”

Currently, about 85% of the $3 billion needed to complete the central business district (CBD) of the country’s new administrative capital – part of a massive project undertaken by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) is being funded by Chinese banks.

The rapid development of key integrated land and sea trade routes has been a crucial part of Egypt’s “Vision 2030” and a hallmark of Egyptian-Chinese relations. Egypt’s priority on expanding the Suez Canal, as well as revitalizing existing overland trade routes, aligns perfectly with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China’s BRI includes plans to develop a “Maritime Silk Road” that connects China to the Mediterranean via the South China Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Suez Canal.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic ties between Egypt and China were strengthened by the signing of an agreement to jointly manufacture the Sinovac vaccine in Egypt.

The latest meeting between Chinese leader Xi Jingping and President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi also signals increased political cooperation, especially on regional security and stability. Presidential spokesman Bassem Rady confirmed that the two leaders discussed developments in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), the Palestinian conflict as well as the crises in Libya, Syria and Yemen.

In order to protect proliferating Chinese interests in Egypt and the Middle East region, involvement in regional stability has been mandatory for Beijing. It seems that China’s policy of non-interference is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain.

However, these ongoing regional dynamics are bound to challenge Egypt’s political dexterity. Cairo must be cautious, agile; increased Chinese political involvement could bolster regional rivals, further weaken relations with Western allies, and undermine China’s neutral and pragmatic rhetoric domestically.

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