Leader greeted as a new friend to China

Updated: 2012-08-29 07:10

By Wu Jiao and Qin Zhongwei (China Daily)

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China solidified its ties with leading Arabic and African player Egypt on Tuesday, as Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi visited here in his first visit outside his home region.

Beijing and Cairo inked eight cooperation agreements, including economic and tourism pacts, after their leaders met to help the turbulent Middle Eastern country jump-start its sluggish economy.

Leader greeted as a new friend to China

President Hu Jintao meets his Egyptian counterpart Mohamed Morsi in Beijing on Tuesday. China is one of the first countries Morsi chose to visit since he assumed office in June. Both leaders vowed to enhance cooperation, such as encouraging more Chinese companies to invest in Egypt. Photo by Wu Zhiyi / China Daily

Officials and analysts said Morsi's "historic" two-day visit will help bilateral ties, as Beijing secures its partnership in the crisis-haunted Middle East, while Egypt's new leadership reaffirms its priority on China ties as Cairo adjusts its foreign policy.

President Hu Jintao on Tuesday afternoon threw a lavish welcoming ceremony for Morsi.

Morsi, Hu said, "has chosen China as one of the first countries to visit, and this fully shows that your country attaches great importance to its desire to develop relations with China."

During his one-hour talk with Morsi, Hu said China always attaches importance to ties with Egypt, as the latter is an important player in the Arab world and in Africa.

Leader greeted as a new friend to China

Hu also encouraged eligible Chinese businesses to invest in Egypt.

Morsi said Egypt welcomes China's business, and promised a secure and stable investment environment.

Morsi also said Egypt appreciates China's support, as Egypt is in the vital phase of national revitalization.

Egypt's economy has been plagued by the world economic downturn and 18 months of political instability, and Morsi is under serious pressure to attract tourists and investment to put Egyptians back to work.

Leader greeted as a new friend to China

Turbulence has scared away foreign investment, and revenues from tourism - one of Egypt's biggest money makers and job sources - fell 30 percent to $9 billion in 2011, according to The Associated Press.

The national unemployment rate hit a record high of 12.6 percent in the second quarter of 2012, according to Egypt's official statistics agency.

Meanwhile, trade exchange between Egypt and China hit $8.8 billion in 2011, up 40 per cent from 2008, according to the Ministry of Commerce.

Rebuilding Egypt's economy in the post-upheaval era is one of the toughest challenges that Morsi faces, according to Li Guofu, director for the Center of Middle East Studies, China Institute for International Studies.

And China is a big market for Egypt amid Europe's economic woes and the sluggish US recovery, Li said.

According to his schedule, Morsi will open the Egyptian-Chinese Co-operation Forum, and businessmen from both countries will attend the Egyptian-Chinese Businessmen Forum, in which several Chinese trade, investment and industrial companies will take part, according to previous reports.

While exporting automobiles, electronics and other finished goods, the Chinese companies also import oil products and raw materials from Egypt, such as cotton.

Morsi's visit to China will be a milestone in bilateral relations and push their development to a new level, said Wu Sike, China's Middle East envoy and former ambassador to Egypt.

Further consolidating and developing a strategic partnership between the two countries will be significant, given the complicated world situation today, Wu said.

Egypt is now seeking a direction in its foreign policy that differs from the pro-US policy of Morsi's predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, Wu said.

Egypt's ambassador to China, Ahmed Rezq, has also described Morsi's visit later this month as "important and historic".

The first visit of the new Egyptian president to China - and the first of an Egyptian leader since a revolution that ousted the Mubarak government - is aimed at bolstering bilateral ties at the official and popular levels, Rezq told the official MENA news agency.

Morsi's visit to China, plus his planned visit to Iran - the first by a Egyptian president in more than 30 years - and Egypt's recent active involvement in helping solve the Syrian crisis is widely seen by analysts as key signs that Egypt is changing its foreign policy to regain a leading role in the region.

Presidential spokesperson Yasser Ali stressed on Sunday that Egypt's foreign policy will be crafted at pushing Egypt's economy forward, and reconsidering how best to achieve Egypt's national security.

On Sunday, Egyptian officials unveiled a plan to resolve the Syrian issue through bringing together all involved parties, including Iran, a key supporter of the Assad government.

Morsi will leave Beijing on Thursday to attend the world gathering of self-described nonaligned nations in Iran, in what will be the first visit to that country by an Egyptian head of state since relations between Egypt and Iran were severed in the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Contact the writers at wujiao@chinadaily.com.cn and qinzhongwei@chinadaily.com.cn.