Chinese foreign minister aims to strengthen strategic ties with African countries
Wang Yi focuses on security and trade issues on visit to Egypt, Djibouti and three other countries on the continent
15 Jan 2020 | Michael Marray

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi began the year with official visits to Egypt, Djibouti, Eritrea, Burundi and Zimbabwe, with both security issues and economic ties high on the agenda.

During his meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo on January 8, Wang called for further strengthening of the China-Egypt comprehensive strategic partnership.

As cooperation between China and Egypt grows in scope and depth, China has become the largest trading partner of Egypt, Wang noted, adding that Chinese investments in Egypt surged more than 60% in 2019.

President Sisi said that Egypt is willing to work together with China to promote the comprehensive strategic partnership to a higher level. As a staunch supporter of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Egypt hopes to become a key partner in promoting the Chinese initiative.

One of the biggest projects in Egypt in which China is involved is the construction of the new administrative capital, located around 50 kilometres east of Cairo.

China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) is the leading contractor on 20 skyscrapers in the Central Business District.

Chang Weicai, general manager of CSCEC Egypt, recently met Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly and Chinese Ambassador to Egypt Liao Liqiang at the construction site. He accompanied them on a tour of the Iconic Tower, which upon completion will be the tallest building in Africa.

Illustrating the importance of the project to the Egyptian government, since construction work started on the CBD, the Egyptian prime minister has visited the site seven times.

Chang told Xinhua that in the second half of 2021 the company will start delivering the 20 buildings one by one. By 2022 it will deliver the whole project with a completed construction area of about 1,900,000 square meters.

China is also involved in port and trade zone development in the Suez Canal area. 

In August 2018, China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) began the main phase of the construction of a new terminal basin in Sokhna Port south of the Suez Canal.

The project was assigned to CHEC by the Sokhna branch of UAE-based DP World, the main investor and container port operator.

The US$520 million Basin 2 is nearing completion. DP World’s total handling capacity at the Sokhna port will double to reach 1.75 million TEU by the middle of this year.

The Red Sea is one of the world’s busiest sea routes, and much of the traffic sailing to and from Asia is made up of Chinese ships.

Sokhna Port is located within the Suez Canal Economic Zone (SCZone), one of the country's mega projects which aims to attract substantial foreign investment and drive economic growth.

The SCZone is also an important regional element of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), as an international logistics centre.

Tianjin Economic-Technological Development Area (TEDA) is a 7.23-square-kilometre industrial area in the SCZone, and early tenants include Chinese fiberglass manufacturer Jushi.

Last April, an MoU was signed between the Government of Tianjin and the General Authority of the Economic Zone of the Suez Canal to develop the second phase of TEDA.

According to the MoU, an area of six square kilometers will be developed to establish advanced industrial sectors within the geographical scope of the canal’s economic zone.

TEDA is targeting companies in the fields of textile, petrochemicals and plastic industries, with an ambitious investment target of US$5 billion, as part of Egypt’s Vision 2030 programme, which has synergies with the BRI.

The next stop on Wang’s tour was Djibouti, where the growing Chinese military and economic presence has caused concern on the part of the United States for geopolitcal reasons. 

Djibouti has a critical location at the entrance to the Red Sea, and is the US military’s main base in Africa.

The Chinese also have had a base there since 2017. The Chinese People's Liberation Army Support Base in Djibouti is operated by the Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).

For China, Djibouti is an important link in the chain of ports in countries such as Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Sea traffic bound for the Suez Canel includes freight being moved to Piraeus Port in the Mediterranean, controlled by Cosco Shipping.

The Doraleh Multi-Purpose Port was built by China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) and opened in May 2017. It has since been the subject of a legal dispute between original concession operator DP World and the Djibouti government, after DP World had its concession rights taken away in February 2018.

The Djibouti International Free Trade Zone (DIFTZ) is run by a joint venture featuring China Merchants Holdings and Dalian Port Corp Ltd, as well as the Djibouti Ports and Free Zone Authority.

Chinese entities have financed and built a railway to Ethiopia, and are constructing an undersea telecoms cable which will link up the region.

The 756-kilometre electrified rail project connecting landlocked Ethiopia to Djibouti was built by China Rail Engineering Corporation (CREC) and China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC).

Wang was visiting at the invitation of Djiboutian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Mahmoud Ali Youssouf.

Wang commented that Djibouti has taken advantage of its unique geographical advantages and actively carried out foreign cooperation, and has become one of the most stable and fastest growing countries in the Horn of Africa.

Wang said China is willing to view relations with Djibouti from a strategic and long-term perspective and deepen political mutual trust with Djibouti. The two sides should build the Belt and Road together, vigorously promote bilateral pragmatic cooperation, and push the China-Djibouti strategic partnership to a new level.

China is also willing to strengthen cooperation with Djibouti in fleet escort, peacekeeping, counter-terrorism, and combating piracy.

Djibouti has been an important port from which to launch naval operations to combat piracy in the region.

Wang then travelled to Eritrea, Burundi and Zimbabwe.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the inception of the Forum on China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC).

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