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Thursday 28 November 2019

Egypt and China getting closer to shape a new Middle East


Faheem Sarwar. 

Egypt and China are getting closer at a time when the traditional role player of the region, the United States, is retreating back to its shore. The future of the Middle East is finally out of the ambit of a single global power as the growing multi-polarity is diversifying regional alliances.

Geographical Leverage of Egypt

Egypt is a doorway to Africa where China intends to undertake Africa-oriented tripartite cooperation. With its strategic geographic location and a thriving economy, it can promote communication between Africa and China.

To diversify its revenues, it has been developing the Suez Canal Economic Zone where China has become the largest investor. Chinese President Xi Jinping himself inaugurated the up-gradation of a Chinese economic zone near the Suez Canal in 2016. 

The 150-year-old waterway has been a major source of economic support for the country. With Chinese support in boosting the canal’s role in global trade, it is expected to continue augmenting Egypt’s national economy. 

Security Challenges

The effects of the so-called Arab Spring can still be felt in the country. Sporadic protests on the lines of those recurring in several other parts of the world are creating problems for the government. Although terrorism has significantly subsided in the region, its resurgence cannot be ruled out. 

Security was a major point of discussion when Wang Yang, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), visited Egypt earlier this month and held meetings with the country’s leadership.

The exemplary law and order situation in China has been inspiring its partners. During meetings with Mr Wang, Egypt called upon learning from China’s deradicalization policies which are being supported by major Arab and Muslim countries. Likewise, Egyptian leaders asked for taking the assistance of Chinese cybersecurity and anti-terrorism expertise. 

With the diminishing US sway and the growing strategic alliances of China in MENA, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi has asked China to play to its influence in promoting stability in the region. 

Growing Mutual Trade

For seven straight years since 2012, China has been Egypt’s largest trading partner. With the Egyptian economy largely dependent on agriculture, the country intends to grow its agri exports to China – something that China has already been looking forward to. 

The Chinese consumer market is exponentially expanding with government support and with massive events like the recently held China International Import Export (CIIE) that grabbed international deals amounting to $71.13 billion during its five days.

On the other hand, Egypt with a population of almost 100 million and GDP reaching $335 billion, presents itself as a huge market with immense potential for Chinese enterprises to expand into the country. China has been the largest exporter to Egypt since 2012 and with the bolstering of Egypt’s industrial capacity through the Suez Canal Economic Zone, its industrial exports to China will also see a hike.

Multifaceted Support to Egypt

Chinese support to its partners is different from that offered by Western nations that have traditionally been viewed in this role. Wang Yang, during his visit, stated that China supported Egypt’s development path as per Egypt’s own national conditions. 

As has often been observed with western developmental packages, they come with several unmanageable strings attached. China’s support to its allies, however, respects their domestic political and social environment.

Wang’s visit also paved the way for enhancing coordination between the two countries’ development strategies. After a period of turmoil, Egypt is on the path of reconstruction. It can learn from the strategies employed by China during its rapid development phase that was affected after its leadership decided to open up the country in the late 70s. 

A fast-paced rise in China’s growth subsequently culminated into a high-quality growth era that now focuses on making it a powerhouse of technological innovation. 

Egypt can, in the same manner, push its industry to achieve an increase in output and, even simultaneously, focus on high-quality manufacturing and service industries. It will enable the country to make the best use of both approaches while balancing all kinds of market demands. 

Like China, Egypt is also an ancient civilization that has successfully preserved its history. Today Egypt is the destination of global tourists who want to have a touch of the past while at the same time enjoy state of the art facilities. 

China has a massive tourist power. Any direction its tourists turn their itineraries to, they bring with them a large amount of foreign exchange. This offers a chance for both countries to increase consumption and provide a livelihood for all those connected with the travel industry. 

Egypt’s and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

No less than the Egyptian President Sisi conveyed his country’s support to the BRI to the visiting Chinese advisor. BRI is an ambitious China-proposed infrastructure, trade, and energy development project spanning several continents. China considers Egypt a natural partner in this mega project. Egypt offers a gateway for BRI to connect the countries located in the African heartland. 

The most feasible way for Egypt to plug with the BRI is through the Pakistani deep seaport of Gwadar. Located at the southernmost point of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Gwadar connects the shipping traffic coming from the Suez Canal to China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region through the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden. 

Before the construction of the Gwadar port, this traffic had to pass through the treacherous Strait of Malacca which perpetually remains embroiled in political and strategic tussles. Any eventuality arising from the presence of an array of militaries in the Andaman Sea can be detrimental to the trade that relies on this choke point. It is, therefore, extremely pertinent to have an alternate point of trade. 

Strategic Support

Egypt has been a supporter of the one-China principle. The recent events in Hong Kong have brought stark realities to global limelight as the Chinese government has warned foreign forces to stop interfering in its internal affairs. Many of its partners, like Egypt, have been providing it support at international forums. Egypt, for one, endorses the measures China has taken to safeguard its territorial sovereignty and national stability. 

The two countries are on the path to consolidating their partnership through economic and diplomatic means. As China’s contributions in the MENA region grow, Egypt is at the forefront of efforts to integrate Asian, European and African economies. 

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