China, Egypt sign $17 billion in investment deals as Xi tours Mideast

Analysts say President Xi Jinping’s regional tour, his first to the Middle East as president, is key to fulfilling China’s global economic and political ambitions.

Egyptian Presidency via AP
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi and Chinese President Xi Jinping deliver a joint statement at the Presidential Palace in Cairo on Thursday. It is the first time in 12 years that a Chinese president has visited Egypt.

Chinese President Xi Jinping announced Thursday his country’s plans to help Egypt improve its infrastructure by aiding in the construction of around $15 billion worth of projects.

Mr. Xi said the projects, which range from the energy to transportation sectors, aimed to increase Egypt’s industrial capacity, reports Reuters. Some have already been launched and others are still under review, he said at a joint news conference with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo.

Xi arrived in Egypt on Wednesday, the second leg of a Middle East tour that started in Saudi Arabia and ends in Iran. At a ceremony in Cairo, Chinese and Egyptian officials signed 21 deals that could lead to a major increase in Chinese investment in the most populous Arab country.

"My visit to Egypt is to cement and deepen the China-Egypt relationship in an all-round way and advance practical cooperation between our two nations for new achievement," Xi said, according to China’s official news agency Xinhua. "China and Egypt are true friends and good brothers."

China appears eager to improve its standing in the volatile Middle East by pursuing a series of economic deals similar to what it has sought in other parts of the developing world, namely in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. (On Thursday, Indonesia broke ground on a $5.5 billion joint project with China to build Southeast Asia's first high-speed rail service.)

Xi arrival in Egypt came just days ahead of the Jan. 25 anniversary of the 2011 uprising that ended autocrat Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule. Mr. Sisi, a former general, became president in 2014 after a military coup d’etat and has so far struggled to improve the country’s soured economy.

"China supports Egypt's efforts to maintain stability, develop the economy and improve livelihoods, and supports Egypt to play an even greater role in international and regional affairs,” Xi said in Cairo, according to Reuters.

Earlier this week in Saudi Arabia, Xi and his Saudi counterparts signed 14 memorandums of understanding to enhance cooperation, research, investment, and development in the fields of trade, satellite navigation technology, renewable energy, and oil.

Two Saudi loans for Chinese environmental projects were agreed on, but the size of these loans was not disclosed, reports the Associated Press. Chinese officials also signed $1.7 billion in loans to Egypt’s banking sector that could help bolster the country’s foreign reserves.

Analysts say Xi’s regional tour, his first to the Middle East as president, is key to fulfilling China’s global economic and political ambitions. As Agence France-Presse reports

Beijing has long taken a backseat to other diplomatic players in the Middle East but analysts say the region is crucial to 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, also relies heavily on oil and gas imported from the energy-rich Middle East.

In Saudi Arabia, Xi 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.

Xi is expected to travel to Iran on Friday, where he will meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as Tehran looks to attract foreign investment following the lifting of nuclear sanctions.

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