A few days ago, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi participated in the first Arab-Chinese Summit that was held in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, which certainly inaugurated a new phase in world history based on multipolarity and the effective Arab and African presence on an equal footing.
The president’s participation in the Arab-Chinese Summit comes within the framework of Egypt’s keenness to strengthen and develop the distinguished historical relations between the Arab world and China, as well as to contribute effectively to efforts to strengthen mechanisms of joint action to achieve common interests.
Al-Sisi also met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The official spokesperson for the presidency stated that Al-Sisi congratulated Xi Jinping on his recent re-election as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China for a third term, expressing confidence in China’s continued progress under his leadership, and looking forward to working with him during the coming period to improve relations between the two sides.
This is especially in light of the historical and extended ties of friendship that unite the two countries and the Egyptian and Chinese peoples, with Al-Sisi stressing Egypt’s keenness to develop cooperation at various levels, whether in the collective Arab framework or the bilateral framework through the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership that brings the two countries together.
In fact, Egypt’s participation in this summit means a lot to Egypt and Africa as a whole. This is because relations between Egypt and China are the cornerstone of any talk of cooperation between Africa and China. This is because Egypt is the first African country — as well as Arab one — to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China.
Many do not know that relations between Egypt and China have been close for a long time, as Egypt is the first country in the Middle East that established diplomatic exchanges with China in the modern era in 1928. On the first of September 1935, China opened its first consulate in the Middle East in Cairo.
Egypt is also the first African and Arab country to take the initiative to recognise the People’s Republic of China in 1956. However, the beginning of cooperation between Egypt and China was actually embodied in the meeting that brought together Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in April 1955 during their participation in the Bandung Conference in Indonesia and their agreement to establish formal diplomatic relations that were inaugurated in the following year.
Since the official inauguration of these relations, and for nearly 66 years, Egypt and China have exchanged support and strengthened cooperation between them in all fields. It is also worth noting that when China decided to withdraw its ambassadors from Arab capitals during the period of its cultural revolution (1966-1976), Cairo was excluded from this decision, just as Egypt was the first developing country with which China signed a strategic partnership agreement in 1999.
For its part, Egypt supported the membership of the People’s Republic of China in the UN. Egypt also unequivocally supports the One China Principle, and also supports the One Country, Two Systems Principle in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
On the other hand, China supported Egypt in all the challenges it faced, as it supported the Egyptian decision to nationalise the Suez Canal and condemned the tripartite aggression in 1956. China also supports Egypt’s efforts in combating terrorism and extremism as it is a common enemy of the two countries.
China also adopted a position in support of the Egyptian people’s choices during the 25 January 2011, and 30 June 2013, revolutions and declared its rejection of any external interference in internal affairs.
Most importantly, the political relations between Egypt and China are characterised by the compatibility of the two countries’ visions regarding support for peaceful and diplomatic solutions to crises and conflicts in the Middle East, including the situation in Syria, Iraq, and Libya.
Beijing also always affirms its firm position in support of resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through diplomatic means in light of the UN resolutions issued in that regard.
Moreover, the two countries seek to enhance international cooperation in the era of globalisation and to make the most possible benefit from the Belt and Road initiative launched by Xi in 2013. This is where Egypt was one of the first countries to announce its support and participation in this initiative.
In terms of economic and trade relations, and according to documented government reports, the volume of trade exchange between the two countries increased from $12.2m in 1954 to $452m in 1995, then to more than $10bn in 2013, and then to $14.56bn in 2020.
This means that the volume of trade exchange has increased about a thousand times over the past 65 years, and Egypt has become the 40th trading partner of China. Likewise, the volume of Chinese investments in Egypt reached $7.7bn by the end of 2020, and the Egyptian-Chinese cooperation in the economic zone in the northwest of the Gulf of Suez is a promising model for investment cooperation between the two countries.
Furthermore, the cultural exchange between Egypt and China is also one of the most important aspects of the relations between the two countries, not only in the modern era but also in history, given their civilisational role in all ages.
On the cultural side, many ancient Egyptian musical instruments were transferred to China, including a musical instrument called ‘jong’ or ‘habu’ that appeared in Egypt 3,000 ago. Chinese silk was also an important source of raw materials that were used in the textile industry in Egypt in ancient times. It suffices to mention that Cleopatra’s clothes were woven from Chinese silk.
In modern times, the first Egyptian educational mission arrived in New China in 1956, and in the same year, the Egyptian-Chinese Friendship Association was founded under the name of the ‘Chinese-Arab Friendship Association.’
In April 1964, the executive programme of the cultural cooperation agreement between Egypt and China was signed. In the 1980s, cultural cooperation took on a new dimension. On March 8, 1987, the meetings of the first round of scientific and technical cooperation between Egypt and China were held in Cairo. During the symposium, more than 10 cooperation agreements were signed between the two countries, which are still ongoing.
In terms of military cooperation, Egyptian-Chinese relations are also strong. Chinese military exports to Egypt are the highest in Africa and exceed China’s total military exports to its allies on the continent — Sudan and Zimbabwe.
Egyptian-Chinese relations are heading towards the future, supported by their rich past. The near future will witness deeper cooperation in light of a new multipolar world order, especially since Egypt and China have a common base, a similar cultural background, and mutual interests.
There is no doubt that China views Egypt as the gateway to Africa, and Egypt views China as a unique and incomparable model of economic development.
* Marwa Al-Shinawy is an Assistant Professor at the International American University for Specialised Studies (IAUS)