|A Chinese performance in Cairo
More than 2,000 years ago, the ancient Silk Road connected China and Egypt, two ancient countries with remarkable civilizations. Along the road, Chinese silk was shipped to Egypt and Egyptian goods went to China. Today, the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road initiative (the Belt and Road Initiative) proposed by the Chinese Government to revitalize the economies of Asia, Africa and Europe is set to further strengthen Sino-Egyptian bilateral ties.
Yang Jixiang, Deputy General Manager of Jushi Egypt for Fiberglass Industry, says he has personally witnessed the benefits brought by the closer ties.
The 35-year-old from Hubei Province has been working in Egypt since China’s Jushi Group, the world’s largest fiberglass manufacturer, established a company in the China-Egypt Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone in 2012.
"Even in my childhood, I was deeply impressed by the famous ancient cultural monuments I read about in the books, like the pyramids and the Sphinx. To me, they represented Egypt," Yang told ChinAfrica . "But when I went to Egypt, what impressed me most was Egyptian hospitality and honesty. The Egyptian and Chinese workers in my company get along well, no matter what language they speak."
Yang’s company was established in 2012 with an investment of $223 million. Then the Belt and Road Initiative was officially put forward the following year. Yang says it has promoted his company’s development and strengthened their determination to invest in Egypt. "We have benefited from the preferential financing and subsidy policies under the Belt and Road Initiative," Yang said. "At the same time, we also enjoy policy support from the Suez Canal Corridor Development Project launched by the Egyptian Government in 2014."
The Suez project aims to make the Suez Canal region regain its glory as an international trade hub with improved infrastructure and the development of three canal cities - Suez, Port Said and Ismailia.
Yang’s company has put in an additional investment of $190 million and is planning a third round that would see $100 million more put in around 2017.
"Thanks to the stable friendship between China and Egypt, Chinese enterprises in Egypt like us have a sound environment where Chinese and Egyptians can work in harmony," Yang said. "More importantly, we can get support from both the Chinese and Egyptian governments."
Yang’s company is only one small link in China-Egypt economic cooperation. In 2015, trade between the two countries reached $12.9 billion, with China being the biggest trading partner of Egypt.
Ever since China and Egypt established diplomatic relations in 1956, the latter being the first African country to do so, bilateral relations have been booming. In 1999, Egypt also became the first African country to forge a strategic cooperative relationship with China. In 2014, when Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi visited China, both countries agreed to upgrade their bilateral relations into a comprehensive strategic partnership. Early this year, when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Egypt, the two leaders vowed to further strengthen the partnership.
"Egypt has a special relationship with China because the bilateral friendship can traced back to thousands of years ago," said Saed Lawendi, an expert with Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. "The long history has laid a profound foundation for the future development of our bilateral relations."
The "profound foundation" is proved by the stable relations between the two countries regardless of what happened in the past years. After the so-called "Arab Spring" movement, Egypt witnessed chaos in its political structure, but according to Sayed Abdel Aal, President of the National Progressive Unionist Party of Egypt and an economist, China-Egypt relations have not been impacted.
"Since 2011, Egypt has experienced presidential [changes] twice and has faced great difficulties in economic development. After President Sisi was sworn in, he visited China twice and our two countries reached consensus on many important issues and projects," Aal told Xinhua News Agency.
Industrial capacity cooperation has been always an important area in China-Egypt cooperation.
At the Johannesburg Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) last year, Xi proposed 10 major cooperation plans between China and different African countries that would be strengthened in the coming years. Industrialization cooperation topped the agenda.
In fact, China and Egypt have started industrial capacity cooperation even before the Johannesburg Summit, signing the China-Egypt Industrial Capacity Cooperation Framework Agreement in September 2015.
"We Egyptians [like] U.S. blockbusters and fast food. But in terms of economic projects, we prefer to cooperate with China," Aal said.
Industrial capacity cooperation between China and African countries can benefit both, according to Yang of Jushi Egypt. He said his company has filled the gap in Egypt’s fiberglass production and at the same time, eased overproduction in China. "In short, Egypt needs industries and we have more capacity in China. That’s why we came here," Yang said.
Jushi Egypt has directly created 1,500 jobs locally, including jobs for more than 40 people with disabilities, and trained a large number of Egyptian workers. In 2015, it contributed 140 million yuan ($21.5 million) in tax revenue to the Egyptian Government.
"Through industrial cooperation, a new enterprise may boost the development of an industry, or even an entire industry chain," Yang said.
According to him, Jushi Egypt has not only driven the development of the fiberglass industry in Egypt but also promoted upstream mineral resource development and downstream development in industries such as wind energy generation and bathtub and pipeline manufacturing.
"Judging from the fact that Egypt and China have maintained a stable friendship and cooperation in spite of various difficulties, Egypt-China relations will embrace great development in the coming years," Aal said. "We have very good cooperation opportunities in areas such as security, personnel and cultural exchanges and urban development."