AGAINST all odds, China maintained an economic balance with a social thrust in 2003 while engaged in a relentless fight against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). China"s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2003 reached US$1.3 billion, an increase of 8.5 per cent compared with the previous year, while per capita income rose to the US$1000 target for the first time. The year ended on a memorable note for the Chinese as their nation launched its first manned spacecraft "Shenzhou V", thus becoming the third after the US and Russia to send an astronaut into the orbit .
"China needs over 50 years to reach the per capita of the Western developed nations, but Beijing is working hard to attain these standards," Chinese Ambassador to Egypt Wu Sike told The Egyptian Gazette. With new leadership at the helm, China succeeded last year in increasing its foreign trade to US$840 billion and rank fourth in the world.
Preparations are in full swing at the Chinese foreign ministry for the first state visit by Chinese President Hu Jitao for discussions with President Hosni Mubarak on topics of mutual interest and latest developments in the Middle East peace process.
"Western media hyped up the news about the SARS cases in China. Yet, Beijing has managed to bring the situation under control," said the Chinese Ambassador.
Sike, who has been in his new post in Cairo for less than three months, speaks Arabic fluently. His current stay in Cairo is his third. The first was in the 1970s for six years and the second was in 1993-1996 as plenipotentiary of the Chinese Embassy. Sike believes in old Egyptian saying: "Those who drink from the water of the Nile will come back to Egypt."
Egyptian-Chinese economic and trade relations have been developing, although the trade balance is still in China's favour.
"China is working hard to redress the trade balance with Cairo and encourages its entrepreneurs to increase imports and investment in Egypt," Sike added. Trade between Cairo and Beijing during the past 11 months rose by 1.4 per cent to US$973 million, compared with 2002.
"Egyptian exports to China increased by 74 per cent to US$142 million from January till November 2003," he said.
China has always regarded Egypt as the most important partner in the Middle East and Africa.
"Egypt has been successfully included in the list of the destinations for Chinese tourists," Sike said.
He sees wider prospects for bilateral cooperation in the peaceful utilisation of nuclear technology, petroleum, agriculture and forestry.
"Two Chinese petroleum firms are currently operating in Egypt."
Educational ties between Egypt and China date back to the early 19th century. In 1841, Ma Fuchu, a theologist and Islamic scholar during the Qing Dynasty of China came to Al-Azhar University, setting a precedent for the Chinese students studying in Egypt. In 1931, China began sending students regularly to Egypt until 1949, when the People's Republic was founded, by which time China had sent over 20 students in five groups to study in Egypt. After diplomatic relations were established, educational cooperation and exchange between China and Egypt heralded a new era of continued expansion with the further development of friendly ties between the two countries.
"China is convinced that the educational exchange between the two countries would reward us with more and more intellectuals," Sike said.
On the status of Muslims in China, Sike said that his country is home to 56 ethnic groups, of which Muslims are one.
China's philosophy is built on Confucius' teachings 'Ai ren' which means 'Love Others'.
All over China, there are 20 million Muslims who enriched Chinese culture and helped spread both Arabic language and Islamic teachings in China.
"For a certain period I received some of classes in a small mosque in my village, when my school had been destroyed by floods," Sike said.
Sike highlighted the cultural ties between the two countries, especially since the opening of a Chinese cultural centre in Cairo a year ago and the increasing number of exchange students.
Currently there are over 400 undergraduate students and 20 post-graduates, plus 32 teachers working here, including one professor and nine associate professors. Moreover, Al Azhar University set up a Chinese language department serving over 100 students, Sike said.
For a long time, Cairo and Beijing have understood and supported each other in international affairs, setting an example for developing international ties among developing countries.
Egypt opposes certain countries which use human rights issue to interfere in the internal affairs of China and other countries, while at the same time China fully supports Egypt's efforts to push forward the Middle East peace process, and is in favour of Egypt's stand for the establishment of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.
On China's role in Middle East efforts, Sike said: "China has opposed from day one the use of force against Iraq and the subsequent occupation of that country. China was the first non-Arab country to call for sovereignty of Iraqis themselves over their country and make joint efforts to safeguard the interests of all developing countries including Iraq."
Beijing is hoping to play an active role in Iraqi reconstruction. China and Egypt maintain a similar stance on the anti-terrorism issue, he said. China hopes to strengthen consultation and coordination with Egypt and other Arab and Islamic nations."
In the last three years China has exerted tremendous efforts to bolster economic and social ties with African nations. China reduced the debts of 31 African countries, which contributed greatly to these nations' economic and social development.
Trade between China and African nations continues to rapidly increase. Bilateral trade volume from January to July 2003 reached US$10.3 billion.
from the Egyptian Gezette Jan.10,2004 by Hala Fawzy