As much of the world focuses on China’s change of political leadership this week, across the globe the emerging superpower quietly expand into other areas. On Wednesday, deep within the ancient streets of Cairo, their Ambassador Song Aiguo opened the Egyptian branch of ‘China Radio International’.
A state-run station that currently broadcasts in 61 languages across the world, the Cairo division will encourage cultural and social connections between China and the Middle East. The station hopes to open further branches in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and other Arab countries.
China isn’t just moving closer to Egypt’s cultural affairs. Their presence in the Middle East has grown rapidly in the last century in many areas including commerce, politics and economics. Whilst many investors are reversing out of the region as a consequence of the revolutions that rocked the region last year, for China instability is a small price to pay in exchange for the Arab world’s assets.
Natural resources in the Middle East are essential in boosting China’s modernization process and to feed its growing industries in light of their economic growth. Though it may not be so rich in energy resources as its neighbours, Egypt is seen as a stepping-stone from which Chinese companies can sell products to other North African and European markets.
Egypt in particular has a large market for inexpensive goods and a huge work force. It also has the Suez Canal, one of the most important channels in the whole world.
The benefits are not one way; Egypt is in dire need of help with its bruised economy following the revolution and China offers low cost construction projects, for example. Recently, China agreed to build a much-needed high-speed railway line between Alexandria and Cairo, a water desalination plant and a power station.
In the past, it was always been the United States that was Egypt’s closest ally with their economic and military aid reaching over $1 billion a year. Yet this support came undeterred by the fact that Mubarak, who was in charge for thirty years, discriminated hugely against the Muslim Brotherhood. It is no surprise then that President Mohamed Morsi is reluctant to cosy up to the West. Unhampered by an economic crisis, like the States, China could eventually replace the US as Egypt’s ‘benefactor’.
But whilst China may have no financial qualms or constraints about investing in the Middle East, the people there may not be so open to the idea. China’s unwavering support Bashar Al Assad, its obstruction against United Nations action in Syria, has not made them popular amongst people in the street, and remains a cause of resentment. As a consequence, China will not make quick progress.
Perhaps then cultural ventures, such as ‘China Radio International’, are part of a broader, strategic initiative that China must now deploy to engage with people on the street in order to make wider gains in the region.
Follow Amelia on Twitter: @amyinthedesert
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.