Xi's visit raises high hopes in Egypt

Updated: 2016-01-17 12:49

By Li Lianxing(China Daily Africa)

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 Xi's visit raises high hopes in Egypt

Magdy Amir, the Egyptian ambassador to Beijing, says China and Egypt need to develop their relations in all fields. Provided to China Daily

The trip comes at a key juncture for the Middle East's most populous country, which is hoping for new partnerships

President Xi Jinping's first state visit to Egypt, set for Jan 20 to 22, comes at a crucial time as Cairo is eager to inspire more confidence in foreign investors, according to the Egyptian ambassador to Beijing.

It would be the first state visit in nearly 12 years by a Chinese president to Egypt, a country of more than 90 million that is the most populous in the Middle East and third most populous in Africa.

Ambassador Magdy Amir says Egypt stands at the center of various regional markets and opportunities, and international investors including Chinese could benefit from its development.

He told China Daily in a recent interview that development is the primary way to stabilize Egypt and China has a significant role to play in this process.

The country found itself in turmoil in 2011 after longtime president Hosni Mubarak resigned. Elections witnessed the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group ousted a year later.

But officials say development, not turmoil, is now on Egypt's agenda.

"Our dedication to development can be reflected by the opening of the New Suez Canal, which was achieved in a very short time and with our own domestic resources," he says. "It strengthened our connection with the Middle East, North Africa, and also sub-Saharan Africa."

The New Suez Canal, an $8.2 billion project finished in July, added a new channel to allow ships to move in both directions simultaneously, and expanded an existing sector. Daily capacity rose from 49 to 97 ships, according to the Suez Canal Authority.

Hoda Jadalla, press counselor of the embassy, says issues to be discussed during the visit include the situation in the Middle East, the threat of terrorism, bilateral trade cooperation, investment, and cultural exchanges.

"We expect to sign a number of agreements and memoranda in the fields of media, trade and investment, infrastructure projects and transportation projects, such as electric trains. The presidential delegation will have an opportunity to see for themselves a plethora of investment opportunities in Egypt," she says.

Egypt and China have drawn closer in the past several years. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi visited China twice within 10 months in 2014 and 2015. Egypt was an active player in the second China-Africa summit held in Johannesburg in December. In 2014, the bilateral relationship was upgraded to a comprehensive strategic partnership, and this year marks the 60th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic ties.

In 2014, bilateral trade volume reached $11.6 billion, according to the Chinese government.

Amir says the two sides need to develop their relations in all fields, and more concrete actions need to be taken.

"We must fully translate our strategic partnership into concrete plans for both sides. As we can see now, China will participate in many projects in our country including energy, transport, and other infrastructure projects in the New Suez Canal region," he says, adding that Chinese companies are eager to take part in the plans.

Amir notes that Egypt has had a special economic zone in the mold of the Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area, known as TEDA, for more than six years. But he says it has remained small compared with the plans for the New Suez Canal industry zones. Existing industrial zones, he says, would be incorporated into the bigger zones.

China has become the top user of the Suez Canal, and the expansion is just the beginning of combining China's Belt and Road Initiative and Egypt's industrialization, according to Amir.

"More international players including China will benefit from this expansion project, which means more projects, industrialization, and more transition of goods are ready to begin," he adds.

China has a chance to make the best use of Egypt's geographical advantage at the center of many important markets, he says. For example, using the TEDA economic zone, Egypt could be an ideal manufacturing region for goods destined for Europe and other areas.

"There is a factory producing fiberglass in the zone, and the products are not only consumed in Egypt, but also exported to European, northern African and Middle Eastern markets," Amir says. "That's why we will have the Suez Canal region focus on building shipping, services to ships, and areas of transit of international goods, to make the best use of its geographic advantages."

He also stresses that Egypt's multiple memberships in international organizations can be an irreplaceable edge for manufacturers because they can provide favorable taxation treatment to producers in Egypt.

Due to Egypt's membership in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, he says, "products from Egypt enjoy zero tax in other member countries, and this also applies to Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia". Egypt also has similar tax arrangements with other pan-Arabic and European countries.

"It benefits any country producing products in Egypt, and naturally it gives Chinese companies an edge," Amir says.

In this process, Egypt expects more skills, technologies, finance and investment from China. Also, joint ventures are encouraged when direct investment is needed.

"China has a strong edge in the railway industry, and we are expecting to cooperate with them to produce trains in Egypt and develop the industry," he says.

In regard to the security situation, he says the whole area has been in trouble during the past few years and Egypt has not been isolated from that, but the situation is much better in economic and security terms compared with 2011.

Amir says Egypt also hopes to leverage its dual membership in the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and the China-Arab States Expo as an advantage to work with China more closely. The expo is a global event backed by Beijing that was held in September in China, in Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui autonomous region.

"FOCAC has been successful, and we understand that FOCAC is not to foster Chinese presence in Africa, but to help Africa better develop. Thus there is enough space for us to carry out concrete actions in fields like technology transfers and agricultural administration."

Amir also says to deepen cooperation, cultural exchanges such as language learning are key. Amir says the learning of Mandarin is a trend that Egypt hopes to encourage.

"Thanks to the Chinese side, Egypt has two Confucius institutes, which are running quite well. And there are 15 Chinese language departments in different Egyptian universities," he says. "For higher studies, at least 300 scholarships for language studies each year are offered to Egyptian students. There are even young people coming to China on their own."

Amir also says there are hundreds of Chinese students who go to Egypt each year to learn Arabic, a trend that he says can be traced back to 1930.

More people-to-people contact and communication is expected to be generated by Xi's visit, enhancing mutual understanding, he adds.


Year of cultural exchange starts

President Xi Jinping's visit to Egypt will mark the opening ceremony of the Egyptian-Chinese cultural year, which would include numerous activities in both countries such as art exhibitions, book fairs, theatrical performances and operas, according to Hoda Jadalla, press counselor of the Egyptian embassy.

Among the agreements expected to be signed during the trip are some dealing with heritage protection, as well as media and the film industry, she says.

"Movies and soap operas are like windows that offer people in both countries an opportunity to know each other more deeply and to know more about the habits and traditions and daily routine. The Chinese drama Jin Tailang's Happy Life won much applause when it was presented to the Egyptian audience," she says. "This kind of exchange is very important, because it gives the two peoples a chance to know each other better."

China Daily