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China’s developing economic partnership with Egypt threatens US-Cairo Relations

Updated: Mar 31

Callum Yeaman

On February 29th, Minister Wang Wentao announced that China plans to advance economic and trade cooperation with Egypt. After meeting with Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly, Wentao proclaimed that he intends to encourage Chinese corporations to invest in Egyptian companies and start new businesses in the African country. China’s decision to expand upon its economic partnership with Egypt will have dramatic implications for Western powers, and the United States in particular. 

China and Egypt have a long history of a deep-rooted economic relationship, dating back to the 1950s when Egypt was the first country in Africa to economically endorse the People's Republic in China. Since their partnership was established in 1956, the two countries have had historically good relations, aside from an economic strain in the 1970s following China’s expression of support for North Vietnam in the Vietnam War. 

Chinese influence in Egypt has grown exponentially in recent years. The 2013 Egyptian coup was instrumental in the establishment of a relationship between the two countries. After army and security forces attacked a demonstration in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square, Egyptian faced a period of political turmoil, and relations with key Western actors such as the United States deteriorated. Maximizing the Western powers diminishing influence over Egypt, China quickly became one of Egypt's largest trading partners in the following years, investing heavily in a variety of infrastructure projects including the construction of a New Administration Capital. 

This growing relationship has several implications for Western political actors, and the United States in particular. The United States has historically fostered a strong strategic partnership with Egypt. Despite a period of stand-still following the coup of 2013, America has considered Egypt an important ally, providing the country with significant military and economic aid. The United States may view the developing relationship between a perceived ally and one of their greatest political enemies as Egypt fraternizing with the enemy. This could lead to a severance in the United States' historically advantageous relationship with Cairo. Wentao’s announcement is only a culmination of the growing Chinese influence in Egypt. Prominent American scholars such as Kongdan Oh Hassig fear that China has been developing “soft power” in Cairo since 2020. 

In particular, the United States is wary of Egypt’s decision to endorse two flourishing Chinese companies with questionable values: Dahua and Hikvision. These two companies were implicated as suspects in a serious surveillance breach by Top10VPN in 2023. American government officials fear that this expansion of Chinese surveillance networks poses a national privacy threat to Egyptian citizens. 

America’s concerns about Chinese influence in Egypt, however, extend beyond the economic sphere. Washington has recently grown concerned over the increased presence of Chinese propaganda in the Egyptian media. According to government officials, the Chinese Communist Party has had a concerning amount of influence over major news sources in Cairo. Chinese influence in the media has supposedly led to the popularization of conspiracy theories about the United States among the Egyptian population. 

The growth of China’s soft power in Egypt has also manifested in its influence over Cairo’s political network. In the last few years, China has been working with Egyptian administrators through large-scale virtual training in the fields of health care, e-commerce, technology, and green energy transformation. In addition, China has cultivated relationships with a variety of Egyptian political parties, strengthening their increasing cooperation with the Chinese Communist Party.

In September of 2022, a Washington Institute Poll determined that Egyptian citizens viewed relations with China as more valuable than relations with America. Minister Wentao’s decision to expand economically in Egypt in 2024 will only contribute to the growth of Chinese influence and the diminishing presence of the United States in Cairo.


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