Building and Developing Together to Realize Common Prosperity: With Emphasis on Africa and the Middle East

By Haggag Ahmed Abdelfattah
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, February 9, 2015
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Countries, communities and even individuals like to go back to their history, even their ancient history, either to be proud of this rich historical legacy, or to derive inspiration to guide them for the future. This is most apparent in the case of China as an ancient civilization and aspiring world power. Hence President Xi Jinping's historic initiative last October 2013 to revive the idea of establishing The Maritime Silk Road in modern terms in order to work with partners around the world to develop maritime infrastructure, especially ports.

The paper traces the history of the old Silk Road both the maritime and land routes as pursued by different Chinese dynasties starting by the Zhou (1100-221 BC) and Han (206 BC-220 AD) dynasties. The old road introduced silk and silkworm farming and later Chinese porcelain and tea, while importing spices and other products. Quanzhou was the starting point for the South China Sea Route, and from there it extended to India, the Arab Gulf, the Red Sea and East Africa, Egypt and from there to Europe. The term Silk Road was coined in 1870 by German geographer Ferdinand von Richthoven, the uncle of then famous Red Baron.

However, countries do not live only on ancient history however glorious it may be. Rather, they seek to use one aspect of this history as a gathering point or a symbol for the present and future policies and plans. Since the initiative announced by President Xi Jinping many efforts have been exerted to explain its main objectives, either through diplomatic contacts, foreign missions accredited to China, talking directly to foreign heads of states and governments, press articles and releases, conferences and seminars, or even photo exhibitions like the one held at the UN headquarters last December. I think that the Quanzhou is one important step in this regard.

Although details of how China perceives to implement this important initiative are not fully available, we have enough information to guide us on how it will be implemented. The enthusiasm shown by the Chinese people and leaders coupled with similar ones from other countries give us hope and trust that it will be successful. Greater emphasis will be on priorities of building roads and upgrading infrastructure and establishing free trade zones. It will span an area from China to Malaysia, Singapore, India, Sri Lanka, the Gulf countries, the Red Sea and the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean and from there to Europe. China hopes to coordinate customs quality control and supervision, e-commerce and other agencies responsible to implement such measures. Premier Li Keqiang also announced the establishment of a maritime cooperation fund.

The paper mentioned also what some detractors are saying about this plan and policies. Criticism has focused on China's policies in Africa to the wrong assumption that it is trying to use such plans to establish a military and naval presence in some countries. However, the great enthusiasm with which the initiative was received by many countries around the world is outweighing such attempts and criticism.

The paper then stresses the evolution and future prospects with three concrete examples such as Africa (mainly through the creation of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) and the Middle East focusing on diverse relations with Egypt, the Gulf countries and Zimbabwe. Although China has relations with almost all the countries in the world, developed and developing countries, it is useful to shed light on a few important regions leaving other papers to dwell on different regions.

Egypt was the first country to recognize the People's Republic of China in 1956 breaching the American attempt to diplomatically isolate China. Most African Arab and Middle Eastern countries followed Egypt's lead in 1956 by recognizing the PRC and establishing full diplomatic relations with it. It is worth mentioning that Egypt was one of the main trading partners in ancient times along the Silk Road, either as a market or as a transit for Chinese goods for export to Europe via the port of Alexandria going back to the era of the Roman Empire. Soon after Egypt's recognition of China, the Chinese people and government expressed their strong solidarity with the Egyptian people and government when Egypt was invaded militarily by Britain and France in 1956 because of its nationalization of the Suez Canal Company, and by Israel which joined the two through a secret pact in order to accomplish some selfish advantages. Since then relations between the two countries, both places of two great civilizations, flourished in all fields and culminated by the recent visit of Egypt's President Abdelfattah al-Sissi to China a few weeks ago and the conclusion of an agreement to elevate relations between Cairo and Beijing to a full strategic partnership.

The paper then traces the relations between the Gulf countries and China. Although political and diplomatic relations were rather late due to the considerations of the Cold War, trade and economic relations between the two sides tremendously increased after the two parties discovered a good formula. The Gulf countries found in China a good and reliable partner for importing their oil necessary for its tremendous economic growth, and China found in the Gulf countries an important and a vast market for its products.

In Zimbabwe, as an example of many other African countries, relations started even before the independence of that country. China was a staunch supporter of African liberation movements especially in Zimbabwe and refused to join US and European calls for sanctions against Harare and President Mugabe, emphasizing that such calls are an interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country and that each countries must choose freely how to pursue its policies.

The paper ends with some conclusions and recommendations.

Ahmed Haggag graduated from Cairo University in 1956, specializing in Economics and Political Science. He joined the Egyptian Foreign Ministry in 1957. He was Ambassador of Egypt to Kenya and Seychelles, from 1982 to 1986, Director of African Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1986 to 1987, Advisor for African affairs to the Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1999 to 2001, Member of the National Council of Women from 2003 to 2006, National Coordinator of the Project for Human Rights Capacity Building in Egypt (BENAA) from 2002 to 2011, Member of the National Council for Human Rights of Egypt and Chairman of its International Relations Committee from 2006 to 2012. He was elected three times by African Heads of State and Government as Assistant Secretary General of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). He served the Organization in many fields such as African Economic Integration, Human Rights, Conflict Resolution, Culture, Finance and Press. He was responsible for the African Commission for Human and Peoples Rights and the establishment of the African Court on Human Rights. He represented his country in many conferences such as OAU Summits, the Non-Alignment Movement, the United Nations, UNIDO, UNESCO. Ahmed Haggag is author of several books on Palestine, the Middle East and Africa.

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