Wednesday,22 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1261, (3 - 9 September 2015)
Wednesday,22 November, 2017
Issue 1261, (3 - 9 September 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Egypt-China: Shared experiences

The positive history of Egyptian-Chinese relations can be used to pursue mutual interests, writes El-Sayed Amin Shalaby

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The expected visit of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to China, the second within a year, invites historians and scholars to recall the two countries’ relations and how they developed.

They will conclude that the two countries developed their relations within an international environment characterised by the escalation of the Cold War between the two superpowers, the US and the Soviet Union.

The beginning was when Egypt recognised the People’s Republic of China, at a time when the US was isolating China internationally. Egypt was the first country in the Arab world and Africa to recognise the People’s Republic of China.

The US reaction towards the Egyptian move was unsurprising. Then-US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles considered that Egypt had joined the enemy’s camp and called for a reconsideration of US-Egypt relations.

The fact is that before establishing diplomatic relations, China and Egypt, and their leaders, shared views about the international situation and its powers, and particularly the emerging African-Asian movement, which was crystallised in the Bandung Conference in April 1955.

That Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser received Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in Rangoon Airport on 15 April 1955 on their way to Bandung was indicative of the level of trust established between the two leaders  to the extent that Nasser asked Enlai to intervene to encourage the Soviet Union to supply Egypt with arms, a request that made the prudent Chinese premier to ask whether Egypt was ready to face the consequences of such a move in its relations with the US.

If we pass this early period of new China-Egypt relations and go on to periods that followed, we discover similarities in the two countries’ experience in managing their relations with the two superpowers: passing from confrontation to understanding and cooperation.

After its revolution in 1949, China experienced bitter relations with the US, which adopted a policy of nonrecognition, military threats, political containment and denying China’s place in the UN.

At the beginning of the 1970s, Richard Nixon recognised the sterility of this policy and started a process of opening up towards China. Nixon and his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, adopted a policy of détente, aimed at creating a balance in relations with the Soviet Union.

As for Egypt, the new regime after July 1955 was frustrated by the US reaction to its expectations of economic and military support. Egypt turned to the Soviet Union, where it developed close ties that marked a drastic shift in Egypt’s foreign policy. As the early 1970s witnessed the shift of US-China relations, from confrontation to cooperation, Egypt’s relations with the US in the mid-1970s witnessed the same pattern of change.

Regarding China and Egypt’s relations with the Soviet Union, both Egypt and China experienced a turn from the close alliance in the 1950s and 1960s to the beginning of cracks in these relations, escalating to hostility.

China disagreed with the Soviet Union on ideological and national interests, and its status within the socialist camp. Egypt disagreed with the Soviet Union when Moscow opposed Egypt’s policy of reaching settlement with Israel through negotiations and cooperation with the US.

China’s tense relations with the Soviet Union lasted until the coming of Gorbachev and his attempts to reconstruct Soviet foreign policy. As for Egypt, its relations with the Soviet Union lasted until the early 1970s, where Anwar Al-Sadat, in spite of some clouds in bilateral relations, was keen to rely on the Soviet Union as a source of political and military support.

But such a positive stage in relations between Cairo and Moscow witnessed a setback due to Moscow’s opposition to Egypt’s choices in the aftermath of the 1973 War. It was not until 1985 that the relations started again to take a positive turn.

When relations between the two superpowers started to shift from confrontation towards dialogue and understanding, both Egypt and China welcomed this development, on condition that their new relations would not be at the expense of other middle and small powers, and would not mean a sort of world hegemony.

A new level of joint experience between China and Egypt came when China, under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, started a process of economic reform, grounded on the free market and opening up to the world.

The same happened in Egypt in the mid-1970s when Al-Sadat introduced what was called the “Open Door” policy, ending the state’s monopoly on the means of production and opening the way for private sector growth and investment.

But while China’s new policy achieved unprecedented rates of growth, Egypt’s experience was flawed and negative economic and social policies obstructed a level of development similar to China.

The direct lesson of these joint experiences between Egypt and China, particularly in a time when the two countries are building new and advanced levels of relations, is that these experiences provide a solid base to build on and develop, on both the bilateral and international levels.

In developing bilateral Chinese-Egyptian relations, and encouraging Chinese companies to invest in Egypt, we need to examine the experiences of Chinese investors who are already working in Egypt, and to address their complaints about Egyptian bureaucracy and how it obstructs the fulfilment and expansion of their projects.

The experience of the Egyptian-Chinese Industrial Zone in Suez is indicative. It was encouraging that following President Al-Sisi’s visit to China in December 2014, Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab formed within the cabinet the “China Unit”, including all ministries and institutions related to relations with China, to follow up on implementation of agreements reached with China.

Internationally, China, together with other emerging powers like Russia and India, is calling for a world system based on multi-polarity. Egypt must join and encourage this movement, as it is the best formula in the interest of medium and small countries, and world stability.


The writer is executive director of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs.  

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