Decoding China: BRI is about mutual respect and shared interests
Decision Makers

Editor's Note: Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era is China-centered, internationally applicable; it caters to the present and is geared towards the future. In CGTN's Decoding China series, domestic and international high-profile officials and experts from various fields share their experience and talk about Chinese governance and its global implication. In this episode, former Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy gives his thoughts on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

CGTN: This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative which was proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013. How do you view the BRI and its impact on Egypt specifically, as well as the wider region? And as a successful model of South-South cooperation, how could these lessons be applied to benefit other countries in the region and beyond?

Nabil Fahamy: First of all, each country has to have its priorities in developing its economic goals and objectives, and systems. When I look at Egypt, China, the BRI, and our economic plans, it's important to take into account our 2030 economic plan. It synergies very well with the BRI initiative as well. Because our plan, given Egypt's strategic location, focuses very much on enhancing our infrastructure, on enhancing Egypt as a hub for logistics, trade, and commerce, because of the Suez Canal and because of our port system, and on enhancing building new cities. We are a very rapidly growing population. And we have a number of mega projects that focus on infrastructure and that is also consistent with BRI in many respects.

When I look at that kind of goal for Egypt, and I look at what the BRI could provide for Egypt, it meets very easily. And because of that, there are some really major significant projects. China's construction companies are working very heavily in the new capital.  

So it's completely consistent with our object. Now, it does not necessarily mean that in all aspects, China's priorities are the same as Egyptian or vice versa, but we respect each other's programs, and we try to make the best of compatibility where it exists.

CGTN: Chinese President Xi Jinping called on China and Arab states to carry forward the spirit of China-Arab friendship and foster a closer China-Arab community with a shared future. What are the highlights of China-Egypt cooperation under the BRI and what can we expect in the future?

Nabil Fahamy: First of all, let's not forget that Egypt was the first Arab country to recognize China in 1956, because politically, we understood the Chinese rights. At the same time, we understood the potential for cooperation. China was also very supportive of Egypt in several crisis points, all the way back to when Egypt was invaded during wars. So history goes back a long way.

Chinese President Xi Jinping gave an exemplary speech at his meeting with the Arab summit in Saudi Arabia, where he really used the right tone and the right phrases by emphasizing shared objectives, shared interests, respect for each other, trying to resolve and achieve security through dialogue, but resolve the conflict based on international law, and with reference to the Palestinian case in particular.

And it's a reflection again that we want to build a better international environment for us all. Not against anybody in particular, but for us all. And that approach allows countries like my own and in the Arab world to take advantage of Chinese expertise, Chinese resources, and Chinese markets. It also allows China to take advantage of Arab locations, Arab energy sources, and Arab markets. This is not, again, a zero-sum game. As long as we work together, we can always find projects that serve both of our interests.

CGTN: The BRI has been dubbed sometimes by the West as a tool for expanding China's geopolitical influences. And some even brought up the notion of a "debt trap." How do you respond to these criticisms?

Nabil Fahamy: There's no doubt in my mind, and I'm not going to be less than candid. One has to always be careful about borrowing beyond your means. That's the national decision. It's not something that is being imposed on you by China. When one borrows, even with soft loans, one has to take into account how to always have the capacity to pay back.

When I first arrived in China (in 2013), we had some difficulties with some economic projects. It (Egypt) had two revolutions in two years, so our economy was stalling a little bit. And I arrived there and Chinese companies were saying we should be fined because we were late. The truth is we were late, but we had two revolutions. So there was a logical reason why we were late. And when I raised this with the Chinese authorities, they were very understanding. And not only did they cancel the sanctions. They actually offered Egypt a financial gift that could be used for science and research during the visit. With this understanding, of course, we would deal as much as quickly as we could with the corporate issues. And we did. 

So again, there was, on our side, respect for our obligations. We corrected that. But there was also, on the Chinese side, an understanding that certain events may create some challenges, and we need to take into account each other's circumstances. That's why our relationship with China is so good. And it has expanded comprehensively and strategically in a multitude of areas over the last decade.

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