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Egypt President Sisi strengthens Belt & Road cooperation
Chinese money and engineering expertise continue to pour into Egypt as other European nations seek closer economic ties with Africa
Michael Marray 5 Sep 2018

RECENT developments demonstrate African leaders are increasingly reaching out to build ties with the wider world, and, in turn, major global powers are increasingly nurturing greater links with this vast continent.

Take Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has been building a close relationship with China, which he has visited five times since taking office in 2014. He was among the high-profile visitors to Beijing for last week's Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).

Al-Sisi arrived on a four day visit ahead of FOCAC, and a reception was held for him at the Great Hall of the People, followed by bilateral talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The high-level delegation included: Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Minister of Investment and International Cooperation, Sahar Nasr, Minister of Trade and Industry Amr Nassar, Minister of Electricity and Renewable Energy Mohamed Shaker, and Head of the General Intelligence Service, Abbas Kamel.

Al-Sisi has been trying to balance his relationship with the United States, with overtures to both Russia and China.

In the case of China, this means close cooperation on the Belt & Road Initiative, as well as on security issues such as fighting terrorism.

China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) recently began the main phase of the construction of a new terminal basin in Sokhna Port, south of the Suez Canal.

UAE-based DP World, the operator of Sokhna port, awarded the contract to CHEC. As a signal of its intent, at a ceremony held on August 28, CHEC promised that it would deliver the "Basin 2" project in 2019, which marks a timescale ahead of schedule.

Sokhna's location, just below the southern entrance to the Suez Canal, on the Red Sea, makes it strategically positioned to handle cargo transiting through the canal, and it has good road and rail links to Cairo, which is 120 kilometres away.

Developing the second basin at the port is being done according to an agreement with the Suez Canal Economic Zone (SCZone), which gives investors tax and business incentives, and operates as an economic authority and one stop shop for investors.

In 2014, Egypt began an US$8.2 billion extension to the Suez Canal. The new section of two-way traffic, open since 2015, shortens the time spent waiting for ships to pass in the opposing direction. According to the Suez Canal Authority, completion of the new canal now means waiting times drops to 3 hours instead of 8 to 11 hours, and transit times through the canal becomes 11 hours instead of 18 hours.

Egypt is eyeing further cooperation with the Chinese side in the SCZone, as part of its participation in the Belt & Road Initiative.

Chinese contractors are also heavily involved in the construction of the new city, 50 kilometres to the east of Cairo, an ambitious project earmarked to be the administrative and financial capital of Egypt.

The new city, which is currently being developed by the New Administrative Capital for Urban Development, is planned to include residential districts, educational institutions, hospitals, 40,000 hotel rooms, a theme park, solar plants and a new international airport.

In October 2017, China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) Vice-President Zheng Xuexuan and Egyptian Housing Minister Mostafa Madbouly signed the US$3 billion Central Business District (CBD) contract in the presence of President al-Sisi and Chinese Ambassador to Egypt Song Aiguo.

An initial agreement was signed by Chinese President Xi Jinping and al-Sisi during Xi's first state visit to Egypt in January 2016.

CSCEC is the main contractor for the CBD, which will include 12 business complexes, five residential buildings and two hotels. A 385-metre skyscraper will be the tallest building in Africa, once completed.

Construction began in March this year, and an ambitious timetable aims to complete the project in 3.5 years. Chinese participation on phase 2 is currently being discussed.

Among the other so-called mega projects, one involved a Siemens-led consortium building three combined cycle gas-fired plants, each generating 4800MW. The power plants, located in Ain Sokhna, Burullus and the New Administrative Capital, were completed in July.

There are also plans for 4,800 kilometres of new roads.

The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) was established in 2000, and since then the volume of trade between China and Africa has increased by 17 times. China's investments in Africa have also grown significantly. The theme of this year's meeting was "China and Africa: Toward an Even Stronger Community with a Shared Future through Win-Win Cooperation".

Some major European countries have undoubtedly lagged behind China in developing stronger economic ties to Africa, but visits last week by both UK Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel illustrate how Africa has moved up the agenda.

Africa is increasingly being viewed as a business opportunity and also economic development is considered key to stemming the flow of migrants headed for Europe.

May visited South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, while Merkel made stopovers in Senegal, Ghana and Nigeria.

Mason Wallick
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