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Business

China boosts business with Egypt

Chinese President Xi Jinping has signed a number of business deals worth billions of euros with Egypt as part of a regional tour aimed at bolstering Beijing's economic ties and clout in the Middle East.

Following talks with Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo on Thursday, Xi Jinping signed 21 deals worth about $15 billion (13.8 billion euros), mainly in sectors like electricity, transportation and infrastructure.

In addition, China provided a $1-billion financing agreement for Egypt's central bank and a $700-million loan to state-owned National Bank.

Highlighting the agreements as "a new impetus to the economic development of Egypt," Sisi said the joint projects were the "best evidence of the two countries' determination to improve their levels of cooperation."

In an article in the state-run newspaper Al-Ahram ahead of his visit, Xi had expressed China's backing for Egypt running its affairs without outside interference.

"China supports the people of Egypt in making independent choices for the future of their own country," he said. He also said China supported Egypt "playing an active role in regional and international affairs."

Egypt has struggled to restore growth since the 2011 uprising ushered in a period of political instability that scared off tourists and foreign investors, key earners of foreign currency.

'Silk road' investment

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" and touted as a revival of ancient

Silk Road trade routes.

Speaking at a news conference with Sisi, Xi said 32 Chinese companies were now working in the Suez Canal economic zone, investing more than $400 million and these figures would rise to 100 firms and $2.5 billion with the next phase of the project.

China, the world's second-largest economy, also relies heavily on oil and gas imported from the energy-rich Middle East.

Saudi ties strengthened

Xi arrived in Egypt from Saudi Arabia where he met with King Salman and 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.

Few details had emerged of Xi's talks with leaders in Riyadh but late on Wednesday the Saudi Press Agency reported that the two countries decided to establish a "comprehensive strategic partnership."

During his visit to Riyadh, Xi had been expected to seek to ease tensions between Saudi Arabia, the region's main Sunni power, and Shiite rival Iran.

Iran and Saudi Arabia back opposing sides in a range of Middle East conflicts, including in Syria and Yemen, and there are fears the row could derail diplomatic efforts to resolve them.

Xi is expected in Iran on Friday, just days after sanctions were lifted when Tehran implemented its historic nuclear deal with world powers. China, with the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Russia, was among the countries that reached the agreement with Iran in July to curtail the latter's nuclear activities in exchange for an end to international sanctions.

uhe/hg (AFP, Reuters)

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