Written Interview with Al-Ahram by State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi
Q1. Welcome to Egypt. Could you share with us the purpose of your visit? What will be the focus of your discussions with Egyptian leaders?
Wang Yi: I am delighted to pay a visit to Egypt at the start of the new year. This is the first stop of my first overseas trip in 2020. Both China and Egypt are ancient civilizations and we enjoy a time-honored friendship. Egypt is the first Arab and African country to establish diplomatic relations with New China. Over the 60-plus years of the diplomatic relationship, the peoples of our two countries have always rendered each other understanding, trust and support. The China-Egypt relationship has stood the test of the shifting international landscape and set a fine example of relations between developing countries.
China highly values its traditional friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation with the brotherly country of Egypt. In the past few years, President Xi Jinping and President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi had multiple meetings and reached important common understanding on a wide range of issues. Together, they have charted the course for the further growth of our bilateral relationship and cooperation. With the shared commitment and strong guidance of the two Presidents, we have established and grown a comprehensive strategic partnership. Our two countries now enjoy solid mutual political trust, fruitful practical cooperation, productive cultural exchanges and a close bond of friendship between the two peoples.
I am visiting Egypt to follow through on the important agreement reached by our Presidents in an effort to bring the China-Egypt comprehensive strategic partnership to a higher level. During the visit, I will call on President Al-Sisi and hold with Foreign Minister Shoukry a new round of strategic dialogue between the two Foreign Ministries. I look forward to an in-depth exchange of views with the Egyptian side, focusing on pursuing all-round growth of the bilateral ties, greater synergy between the Belt and Road Initiative and Egypt’s Vision 2030, stronger practical cooperation in various fields, and closer communication and coordination on regional and international affairs.
Q2. Will Egypt and China have more economic and trade cooperation in the new year, especially on the Suez Canal Corridor Development Project and the New Administrative Capital?
Wang Yi: Recent years have seen a boom in the economic cooperation and trade between China and Egypt, which has brought tangible benefits to the peoples of both countries. Despite the complex and fluid international trade environment, trade between our two countries crossed, for the first time, the US$10 billion mark in 2013, and has since stayed on an upward trajectory. It reached US$13.8 billion in 2018, and China is now Egypt’s largest trading partner.
China is committed to the opening-up policy and wishes to work with all other countries to build an open and inclusive world economy driven by innovation. China has hosted the international import expo for two years running. Egypt was an active participant on both occasions. And it was the guest of honor country at the first expo. In the face of the current situation, China and Egypt are both unequivocal in opposing trade protectionism, firm in safeguarding the multilateral trading regime, and resolute in upholding free trade with concrete actions.
Our commercial cooperation is far more than trade. We are also making steady progress in cooperation in such areas as investment, industrial capacity, infrastructure and financial services. The Chinese government encourages Chinese companies in taking an active part in Egypt’s strategic projects to support the Egyptian economy, including the two major strategic projects, namely, the Suez Canal Corridor Development Project and the New Administrative Capital. As a matter of fact, the China-Egypt Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone is located right in the Suez Canal Economic Zone, and the development priorities and management model of the cooperation zone are highly compatible with the strategy of the Suez Canal Corridor Development Project. The over 60 companies in the cooperation zone have created a great number of local jobs and helped raise Egypt’s industrial manufacturing capacity. They export many of their products to Europe and other parts of Africa. They are now a source of foreign currency revenues, and serve to bring out Egypt’s geographical advantage as a link between Asia, Africa and Europe.
The CBD project of the New Administrative Capital undertaken by the China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) has been widely acclaimed in Egypt for both construction and technical prowess. Moreover, the CSCEC contracted with many local companies, hired local employees and sourced local raw materials, all contributing to enhancing Egypt’s overall engineering capacity.
In addition, our cooperation projects in electricity, transportation and other areas that concern people’s lives, including the EETC power transmission project, the 10th of Ramadan City railway project and the Benban Solar Park, are either already up and running or making solid progress.
I am confident that with the deepening of our economic and trade cooperation, more and more Chinese companies will get involved in Egypt’s economic development and contribute their part to Egypt’s national development and rejuvenation.
Q3. What will be the priority areas of China’s investment in Egypt?
Wang Yi: Recent years have seen growing investment cooperation between our two countries as we deepen the Belt and Road cooperation and forge an effective synergy between our development strategies. To date, Chinese companies have made over US$7 billion of investment in Egypt, registered 1,560-plus local firms and created more than 30,000 local jobs in energy, infrastructure, manufacturing, agriculture and mining.
Building on this solid basis, China will scale up its investment in more areas in light of Egypt’s actual needs to pursue mutual benefit and win-win results. President Al-Sisi said at the opening of the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation last April that Belt and Road development dovetails with the priority areas outlined in the Egypt’s Vision 2030, and that Belt and Road development is very much aligned with Egypt’s direction of development. Going forward, China will continue to tilt its investment toward Egypt’s priority areas. And technology-intensive emerging sectors such as new energy, electric cars, aerospace and telecommunications are expected to be the new drivers of our bilateral cooperation. This will lend new impetus to our cooperation under the Belt and Road framework.
Q4. Have Chinese entrepreneurs or companies encountered any obstacles or problems in Egypt? If yes, have they held back Chinese investment in Egypt? And what are the obstacles and problems?
Wang Yi: An enabling business environment is widely seen as essential for attracting business investment. For China and Egypt, the good relationship and strong friendship between the two governments and between the two peoples, are our natural strength in fostering a sound business environment. Against this backdrop, we have been working together to bolster our investment cooperation. China has encouraged its companies to invest and do business in Egypt, and asked them to abide by local laws and regulations and fulfill due social responsibilities. Egypt, on its part, has made active efforts in improving its business climate in recent years, including introducing the new investment law, and other regulations and policy incentives. Thanks to our joint efforts, Chinese companies now enjoy an ever-improving business environment and feel more confident about investing in Egypt.
I should point out here that for some time, certain countries have been smearing and spreading rumors about Chinese investment overseas, especially investment in Africa. They use various means to disrupt China’s cooperation with African countries. Such practices against China have no factual basis and are driven by ill intentions. China firmly opposes such moves and they are bound to be rejected by the African countries too. To our encouragement, these contemptible moves do not work in Egypt, as the Egyptian government and people truly welcome Chinese investment, truly appreciate the technologies and jobs such investment brings, and truly expect China-Egypt practical cooperation to contribute more to Egypt’s development. This fair and positive position of Egypt is highly meaningful in boosting Chinese firms’ confidence in the Egyptian market.
Q5. Last year saw a surge of Chinese tourists to Egypt who made 500,000 visits. That said, given the fact that China is the world’s largest source of overseas tourists, this figure still looks rather moderate, especially when compared with the number of Chinese tourists visiting the ROK or some other countries. What are your thoughts on increasing Chinese tourists to Egypt and what plan on the Egyptian side are you aware of?
Wang Yi: Egypt is a major tourist destination with rich tourism resources. Tourism is one of Egypt’s pillar industries and tourism cooperation is also an important part of China-Egypt practical cooperation. As you rightly noted, recent years have seen a steady increase of the Chinese tourists traveling overseas, not only to China’s neighboring countries but also to distant destinations with exotic attractions. And Egypt is one of such places. In the past three years, the number of Chinese tourists to Egypt has been growing at over 30% on average annually. This remarkable speed is far higher than the overall growth of overseas trips by Chinese tourists, and reflects the huge potential of our tourism cooperation. China will continue to encourage Chinese tourists to visit Egypt. We also hope that Egypt will further tap the Chinese market, enhance safety protection for tourists and provide them with convenience. We welcome Egyptian authorities and companies to stage tourism promotions in China. The relevant departments of our two sides may discuss the possibility of holding Year of Tourism activities in each other’s countries to further invigorate our tourism cooperation and attract more Chinese tourists to Egypt.
Q6. The United Nations and its Security Council, and other international platforms have engaged in sustained cooperation and consultation on many international issues. How does China see President Al-Sisi’s recent proposal on the Security Council reform?
Wang Yi: China and Egypt are both major developing countries, and we share broad-based common interests in promoting greater democracy in international relations and in the reform of the global governance system. Our two countries have all along enjoyed sound cooperation at international platforms such as the UN, especially its Security Council. We have been working together to uphold multilateralism, safeguard the UN-centered international system and promote the common interests of developing countries. On the Security Council reform, President Al-Sisi has stressed on many occasions the imperative to redress the historical injustices done to Africa. China fully supports this proposition, and has all along believed that the only right direction of the Security Council reform is to increase the representation and voice of developing countries, especially African countries. China is ready to work with Egypt and other African friends at the Inter-governmental Negotiations and other fora to move the reform steadily forward in a direction that serves the common interests of all developing countries.
Q7. Will Chinese companies have the largest share in Syria’s reconstruction in the next phase in coordination with the Syrians and the Russians? Or would China prefer to stay away from the region at the moment for political reasons?
Wang Yi: On Syria, China always believes that while continued efforts are needed to seek political resolution and combat terrorism on all fronts, the reconstruction process should be advanced to guarantee lasting peace and security of Syria and a safe and happy life of the Syrian people.
Since the crisis broke out, China has provided a large amount of humanitarian assistance to the Syrian people and has held training programs on reconstruction, which are concrete actions in support of the reconstruction of Syria. China supports Chinese enterprises in participating in Syria’s reconstruction and is willing to consult and cooperate with various parties along the process. All our efforts aim at achieving one goal - to bring the Syrian people back to a life of stability and prosperity.
The reconstruction of Syria requires collective efforts of the international community. Yet regrettably, some countries have been disrupting rather than contributing to it, by setting preconditions, politicizing it and even blocking other countries’ participation in the process through unilateral sanctions and the so-called “long-arm jurisdiction”. China urges these countries to bear in mind the real interests of the Syrian people, shoulder their responsibilities and play a positive role in bringing peace, stability and development to Syria and the region.
Q8. Turkey’s violation of the sovereignty of Libya and oil and gas resources in the Mediterranean region has escalated tensions in that region. What is China’s view on this?
Wang Yi: China has noticed the recent escalation of tensions in eastern Mediterranean. We always believe that the Libyan issue can only be truly and properly settled by political means. The military option would lead nowhere and only cause endless trouble. China supports a “Libyan-led and Libyan-owned” political process under the auspices of the UN to help end conflicts, resume political dialogue, and bring about lasting peace as early as possible. What is most pressing is for all relevant parties to act in the fundamental interests of the Libyan people and peace and stability of the region, facilitate an early ceasefire between the conflicting parties in Libya and bring them back to the track of dialogue and negotiation.
As a permanent member of the Security Council and a responsible major country, China has been outspoken in its position to support and advance the political settlement of the issue on multilateral occasions, including the UN and international conferences on Libya in Paris and Palermo. China has maintained contacts with various factions in Libya and actively worked on various parties to facilitate talks for peace. We will work with Egypt and make active and constructive efforts for the early political settlement of the issue and for peace and stability in the Mediterranean region.
Q9. China is a major supporter of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. What is China’s vision at the moment of resuming negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis? How do you see the impact of the “deal of the century”?
Wang Yi: As conflicts between Palestine and Israel continue and with little mutual trust between them, the situation has deviated from the right track of the peace process. China is deeply worried by this development.
The Palestine issue is the root cause of the turmoil in the Middle East. It is a wound on human conscience. Without a fair and reasonable settlement of this issue, lasting peace and security of the Middle East would not be possible. After more than 70 years, the Palestine issue is still not resolved, inflicting tremendous pain on the people. This should not continue. The international community and parties in the region have made great efforts to realize peace between Palestine and Israel and have reached such widely-recognized international consensus as “land for peace” and the “two-state solution”. These principles should be firmly upheld and should not be traded off. Palestine and Israel are and will remain each other’s neighbor. Only a negotiated and peaceful resolution could bring an end to the vicious circle of meeting violence with violence.
A political issue in nature, the Palestine issue can only be resolved by political means. All proposals should be based on fairness and justice and heed the views of the parties concerned, especially the Palestinian side. China believes that differences should be addressed through equal-footed negotiations within the framework of the “two-state solution” and on the basis of relevant UN resolutions, the principle of “land for peace” and other international consensus. As a permanent member of the Security Council, China will continue to stand and speak for justice on multilateral occasions, firmly support the Palestinian people in their just efforts to restore their lawful rights, and support the establishment of an independent State of Palestine that enjoys full sovereignty on the basis of the 1967 borders and with east Jerusalem as its capital.
Q10. Some media have been playing up the Chinese government’s “strict” policies towards its Muslim minority, especially the Uygurs in Xinjiang. How would you respond to that?
Wang Yi: The Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, as one of the five ethnic autonomous regions in China, is a place where 25 million people of different ethnic groups live together in harmony. The predominant population of the 10 ethnic groups there, including the Uygur and the Hui, believe in Islam. The Muslim population has been increasing, approaching 60% of the region’s total.
China has in place a system of regional ethnic autonomy that aims to ensure equality and common prosperity and development for all ethnic groups, guarantee the power of ethnic autonomous areas to self-govern in accordance with law, and protect the legitimate rights and interests of ethnic minorities. As President Xi Jinping pointed out, people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang are closely united as family members, just like the seeds of a pomegranate that stick together.
The people’s congress, the government and the regional committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) of Xinjiang have all along been headed by people of ethnic minorities. People of ethnic minorities account for 62.1% and 46.7% of the members of the 13th People’s Congress and the 13th CPPCC regional committee.
In addition, the policy of freedom of religious belief is comprehensively implemented in Xinjiang to fully guarantee such freedom for people of all ethnic groups in accordance with law, and ensure equal political, economic, social, cultural and other rights for both religious believers and non-believers. At present, there are over 24,000 mosques, one for every 530 Muslims, across Xinjiang, as well as 10 religious colleges including the Xinjiang Islamic Institute, and more than 100 religious organizations.
In the past seven decades since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Xinjiang has undergone historic economic transformation. Its GDP has jumped from RMB791 million yuan in 1952 to RMB1.2 trillion yuan in 2018, a 200-time increase in real terms. Its foreign trade volume has exceeded US$20 billion, 1,481 times the figure of 1950. With sustained and rapid economic growth, people’s livelihood has been significantly improved. Gone are the days of inadequate food, clothes, electricity and water and poor transportation conditions. This year, absolute poverty will be eliminated in Xinjiang. Together with their fellow countrymen, people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang will enjoy moderate prosperity in all respects with no one left behind.
Stability is the precondition for development. What Xinjiang has accomplished today would not have been possible without the measures taken in recent years to counter terrorism and maintain stability. Xinjiang was once plagued by terrorism, religious extremism and separatism. Preliminary statistics point to thousands of violent terrorist incidents in Xinjiang between 1990 and the end of 2016. Faced with such a grave situation, Xinjiang has drawn on international counter-terrorism experience and adopted deradicalization measures in accordance with law, including setting up vocational education and training centers. These efforts have paid off. For three years in a row, Xinjiang has been free from violent terrorist incident. People of all ethnic groups there now feel safe and secure and they wholeheartedly support relevant policy measures. All the trainees participating in deradicalization education and training have graduated. With the help of the government, they have found stable jobs and are leading a happy life.
Facts speak louder than words, and fair-minded people can tell right from wrong. Since the end of 2018, more than 70 foreign delegations, or some 1,000 people, including staff from Al-Ahram, have visited Xinjiang. They saw first-hand a stable, thriving and developing Xinjiang and stated that its counter-terrorism and deradicalization efforts can provide inspirations for others. In October 2019, over 60 countries spoke at the United Nations General Assembly to support China’s Xinjiang policy, and over 30 of them are Islamic countries.
Some western media, out of prejudice, choose to ignore basic facts. They fabricate lies to smear and discredit the counter-terrorism and deradicalization efforts in Xinjiang, and even try to drive a wedge between China and Islamic countries. We are confident that people in Egypt and the wider Islamic world will take an objective and impartial position, and that they will not be deceived or misled by such deliberate misinformation.