China, wary of Arab Spring, hosts Morsi

2012-08-29 09:06
Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi, left, stands with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (How Hwee Young, Pool/ AP)

Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi, left, stands with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (How Hwee Young, Pool/ AP)

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Beijing - Egypt's newly elected president met with China's future leader on Wednesday on the second day of a visit that seeks to deepen economic and diplomatic ties despite Beijing's uneasiness with the Arab Spring revolution that helped bring him to power.

President Mohammed Morsi hopes his trip will bring trade and investment to shore up his country's flagging economy.

On Tuesday, China pledged $200m in credit for the National Bank of Egypt, with the sides also signing agreements on agriculture, telecommunications, the environment and other areas.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping told Morsi on Wednesday that China placed "tremendous value on this visit".

"It is hoped this visit will further increase our mutual understanding and trust, promote greater co-operation and exchanges between our two countries, bring new vitality to bilateral relations and open a new chapter in friendly contacts," said Xi, who is due to take over as president next spring in a transition of power to a younger generation.

Morsi responded by terming Egyptian-Chinese ties as a "strategic relationship" he hoped to enhance with his meetings in Beijing.

Foreign policy away from US focus

Morsi, an Islamist who took office in June as Egypt's first freely elected civilian president, met on Tuesday with President Hu Jintao.

It is Morsi's first state visit outside the Middle East and Africa since becoming president, underscoring China's importance as one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council and as a vital source of trade and investment.

The visit is also seen as part of a reorientation of Egyptian foreign policy away from a heavy focus on the US.

Morsi was preceded to Beijing by a delegation of 80 Egyptian business leaders who planned to discuss investment projects with 200 Chinese counterparts.

The trip is also a chance for the countries to rebuild their relations in the wake of the popular uprising last year that drove longtime President Hosni Mubarak from power, paving the way for democracy and Morsi's election.

China's authoritarian one-party government was decidedly cool toward that movement, criticising what Chinese state media derided as thuggish "street democracy".

Syria on the agenda

Beijing bitterly condemned the Nato air campaign that brought down dictator Muammar Gaddafi in neighbouring Libya and continues to join with Russia in blocking UN Security Council actions to force Syrian President Bashar Assad from power.

Tuesday's talks touched on the Syrian crisis and both countries are opposed to a military intervention, said Egyptian presidential spokesperson Yasser Ali. "I presume that there is an understanding from both sides that we have to work together to stop the bleeding in Syria's streets, and the other understanding also regarding the military [intervention] in Syrian scene is not accepted by both countries," he said in English.

Long a bystander in Middle Eastern politics, China has become increasingly active, driven by its need for oil and gas, and its economic importance to the region has ballooned amid Europe's economic woes and the sluggish US recovery.

Egypt's economy has been battered by the global economic slowdown and 18 months of political instability, and Morsi is under heavy pressure to attract tourists and investment to put Egyptians back to work.

Revenues from tourism — one of Egypt's biggest money makers and job sources — fell 30% to $9bn in 2011, and foreign investment has largely dried up.

That has forced the country to seek billions of dollars in assistance from the International Monetary Fund and raised the possibility of a cut in subsidies that keep commodities like fuel and bread cheap for a population of about 82 million, 40% of whom live near or below the poverty line.

Suez development zone

Chinese tourists are increasingly travelling farther afield to more exotic locales such as Egypt, while Chinese companies have invested in Egyptian manufacturing and infrastructure, having poured an estimated $500m into the country.

Tourism is an area Hu and Morsi identified for co-operation, and the Chinese president also pledged support for a Suez development zone, according to China's official Xinhua News Agency.

Morsi leaves Beijing on Thursday to attend the world gathering of self-described nonaligned nations in Iran, the first visit to that country by an Egyptian head of state since relations between them were severed in 1979.

Read more on:    mohammed morsi  |  bashar assad  |  hu jintao  |  muammar gaddafi  |  china  |  egypt  |  north africa  |  uprisings

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