China-Arab economic ties resilient despite challenges of COVID-19
Though the raging COVID-19 pandemic is casting a shadow over the economy of the Middle East, cooperation between China and Arab countries has shown resilience and vitality, offering hope of post-pandemic recovery in the region.
Mahmoud Beshr is a manager in charge of business development at the China-Egypt TEDA Suez Economic and Trade Cooperation Zone, a major Belt and Road project located on the shore of the Red Sea.
Though impacted by the novel coronavirus in Egypt, Beshr and his colleagues have been proceeding with their work. At the end of June, Beshr's team successfully signed a bonded warehouse lease agreement with a Chinese textile company.
Only by taking quick action with great determination can one turn things around in times of difficulty, the 30-year-old Egyptian said.
The TEDA cooperation zone was officially launched in 2008 with an aim to build a new city out of desert.
So far, an industrial cluster has been formed at the zone, featuring industries of building materials, petroleum equipment, high and low pressure equipment and machinery manufacturing, said Cao Xue, brand director of the strategy department of China-Africa TEDA Investment Co. Ltd., the operating body of the zone.
As of the end of June, the zone has attracted a total of 85 companies, with a cumulative sales volume reaching 1.7 billion U.S. dollars, creating over 4,000 jobs.
Some 100 km away from the TEDA cooperation zone, Egyptian and Chinese engineers and workers have been working tirelessly to advance construction in the central business district near Cairo.
Undertaken by China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC), the CBD project in Egypt's new administrative capital involves the construction of 20 towers, including a 385-meter-high skyscraper expected to be the tallest in Africa upon completion.
"The construction of the Iconic Tower structure has reached the 30th floor, and the progress of the project has hardly been affected by the epidemic," Chinese Ambassador to Cairo Liao Liqiang told a press conference in June.
In the desert of southeastern Jordan, over 2,000 Chinese are working to construct the Attarat Oil Shale Power Plant, which is expected to become Jordan's largest power plant upon completion, meeting around 15 percent of the country's electrical needs.
After two months of suspension due to COVID-19, construction on the project has been gradually resumed since early May, said Luo Xiongdong, the project's constructor with China Energy Engineering Group Guangdong Power Engineering Co., Ltd..
Of the two generators under construction, one will be delivered by the end of this year, and the other next year, Luo said.
The steady construction of the project was made possible with the implementation of strict virus-prevention measures.
Mahmoud Ashour, in charge of security and cleaning jobs at the TEDA cooperation zone, has been especially busy during the past few months. Every day, Ashour and his colleagues disinfect the public areas thoroughly and measure the body temperature of people entering and exiting the zone.
Cao said in as early as January, the cooperation zone started to take precautionary measures against COVID-19, and a headquarters was established to make anti-coronavirus plans.
Meanwhile, Ahmed al-Banna, an Egyptian designer and consultant of Egypt's new capital project, said the CSCEC not only ensured the project's continuous production, but also implemented effective anti-pandemic measures.
According to Luo, the construction site of the Attarat Oil Shale Power Plant has been complying with the anti-coronavirus requirements of the local government, while it is also equipped with a clinic and a quarantine area to ensure workers' safety.
China and Arab countries have witnessed a drastic growth in economic and trade cooperation over the past few years.
China-Arab trade volume reached 244.3 billion dollars in 2018, up 28 percent year-on-year. In 2019, the figure hit 266.4 billion dollars, an annual growth of 9 percent.
Amid the impact of COVID-19, trade between China and some Arab countries still registered growth.
Data from Chinese customs show that trade between China and Saudi Arabia grew 4 percent annually in the first quarter. According to the Chinese Embassy in Egypt, trade in goods between China and Egypt saw a volume of 5.484 billion dollars during the first five months of this year, up 1.12 percent year-on-year.
At the recent 9th ministerial meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, China and Arab countries agreed to deepen cooperation in various fields while pushing the Belt and Road cooperation forward.
Wajdi Makhamreh, a capital market and investment banking expert and independent economist in Jordan, said the Belt and Road projects will help the economies of the Arab world recover in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis.