China pumping billions into Egypt

Children greeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Chinese President Xi Jinping during a welcome ceremony in Cairo.
Children greeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Chinese President Xi Jinping during a welcome ceremony in Cairo.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Slew of deals will help bolster Beijing's clout and economic ties in the Middle-East

CAIRO • Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a slew of multibillion-dollar deals with Egypt yesterday as part of a regional tour aimed at bolstering Beijing's economic ties and clout in the Middle East.

After arriving late on Wednesday from Saudi Arabia, Mr Xi held talks with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and was to address the Cairo-based Arab League.

State television broadcast the live signing of bilateral agreements at a presidential palace in Cairo in the presence of the two leaders.

"The two sides have agreed to undertake 15 projects... mainly in sectors like electricity, transportation and infrastructure," Mr Xi said in a joint statement with Mr Sisi.

"The total investments in these projects would be US$15 billion (S$22 billion). These projects will offer a new impetus to the economic development of Egypt."

Mr Sisi said the agreements were the "best evidence of the two countries' determination to improve their levels of cooperation".

In an article in state-run newspaper Al-Ahram ahead of his visit, Mr Xi expressed China's backing for Egypt running its affairs without outside interference.

"China supports the people of Egypt in making independent choices for the future of their own country," he wrote.

He also said China supported Egypt "playing an active role in regional and international affairs".

Mr Xi's regional tour, his first to the Middle East as President, will take him to Iran next. Beijing has long taken a back seat to other diplomatic players in the Middle East but analysts say the region is crucial to Mr Xi's signature foreign policy initiative - known as "One Belt One Road" - touted as a revival of ancient Silk Road trade routes.

China, the world's second-largest economy, relies heavily on oil and gas imported from the energy-rich Middle East.

Mr Xi's visit to Egypt comes just ahead of the Jan 25 anniversary of the 2011 revolution that toppled long-time Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak. His ouster was followed by unrest and a military overthrow of his Islamist successor Mohamed Mursi, the country's first freely elected president, by then-army chief Sisi.

As well as addressing the Arab League, Mr Xi was to visit Egypt's newly convened Parliament, which was sworn in earlier this month after elections dominated by pro-government candidates.

He was to also visit the famed temple city of Luxor yesterday to attend celebrations marking six decades of diplomatic relations between Cairo and Beijing. His visit to Luxor is also seen as an attempt to lure Chinese tourists to Egypt.

In Saudi Arabia, Mr Xi met King Salman and oversaw the opening of a joint-venture oil refinery in the Yanbu Industrial City on the Red Sea.

Saudi Arabia is China's biggest global supplier of crude oil. Few details have emerged of Mr Xi's talks with leaders in Riyadh but late on Wednesday, the Saudi Press Agency reported that the two countries had decided to establish a "comprehensive strategic partnership".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2016, with the headline 'China pumping billions into Egypt'. Print Edition | Subscribe