Egypt: China’s new beachhead in Africa
Egypt, it would seem, does not fit the profile of other African countries that have attracted large amounts of Chinese investment. After all, the Egyptians lack the vast oil reserves of Angola, the huge amounts of copper deposits like those in Zambia, a growing middle class in Rwanda or the corporate hubs as those in South Africa or Kenya. Yet even with all of these apparent short-comings, China is nonetheless plowing billions of dollars into Egypt in loans, aid and investment.
What Egypt lacks in conventional raw materials it more than makes up for in geography. “Egypt’s strategic location is actually the country’s most valuable natural resource,” explained Cobus van Staden, a lecturer at Wits University in Johannesburg, as to why Chinese policy makers believe Egypt will play an increasingly important role in their rapidly evolving global trading strategy known as “One Belt, One Road.” OBOR’s shipping routes stretch clear across the Indian Ocean and snake their way up the African coast and pass through the Suez Canal to vital transportation links and commercial markets in Europe and Central Asia.
“This decade has seen an unprecedented surge in enthusiasm for the Chinese model of development in the Arab world. As the American vision of democratic capitalism has lost its luster, many Arab intellectuals have turned to China.”
Just as the British and Americans in previous centuries, the Chinese today regard access to the Suez Canal as vital to their broader strategic interests in the region. The Chinese government is underwriting a massive $8.2 billion upgrade to the canal that, when completed, will expand the waterway’s capacity to 97 ships a day and potentially double annual revenues to $13.5 billion, according to The Economist. Separately, PRC companies are now the largest investors in the new Suez Canal Economic Zone, a new special trading zone that is being built by Chinese contractors.
China’s seeming embrace of Egypt is no doubt warmly received by President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi who has faced withering criticism from the United States and other western governments over human rights violations and political repression. The Chinese government, who faces similar critiques from those same governments in the west, intentionally avoids any comment on Egyptian politics as per Beijing’s long-standing “non-interfence” foreign policy doctrine.
Egypt’s gradual shift away from the West and towards the Chinese is a process that has been building momentum for years explained Sino-Egyptian scholar Kyle Haddad-Fonda in a recent article in World Politics Review: “This decade has seen an unprecedented surge in enthusiasm for the Chinese model of development in the Arab world. As the American vision of democratic capitalism has lost its luster, many Arab intellectuals have turned to China.”
Kyle joins Eric & Cobus to discuss the strategic significance of Cairo’s pivot to Beijing and whether or not China’s billion+ dollar bet on Egypt stands to pay off. Join the discussion. Do you think it’s wise for Egyptian to embrace the Chinese by further disengaging from the United States and other Western powers. Let us know what you think.