BEIJING — China and Egypt “share similar visions and strategies in defending their own interests,” Chinese leader Xi Jinping said Saturday in a meeting with Egypt’s authoritarian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.
The Egyptian leader was one of a half-dozen heads of state who met with Xi after attending the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics, seeking closer ties with China while shunning Western criticism of their heavy-handed rule.
Xi “hailed enhanced political trust” between the countries, citing cooperation in fighting the pandemic. Their comprehensive strategic partnership is a model of “China-Arab, China-Africa and China-developing world solidarity,” Xi said, according to CGTN, the international arm of state broadcaster CCTV.
“China and Egypt share similar visions and strategies in defending their own interests, pursuing common development, enhancing their people’s well-being and promoting fairness and justice in the world, as the world is undergoing changes unseen in a century,” Xi said.
The sides will “continue to support each other on issues related to core interests and major concerns,” he said.
Since taking power, el-Sissi has overseen a widespread crackdown on dissent and opposition, jailing tens of thousands and drawing international criticism.
In 2017, the government arrested dozens of Uyghur students studying at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University and deported them to China amid Beijing’s ruthless crackdown targeting Muslim minorities in the far western Xinjiang region.
Egypt was the recipient of several free shipments of Chinese-made Sinopharm coronavirus vaccines and China says it helped set up Africa’s first vaccine production in the country.
El-Sissi is one of more than 30 world leaders and heads of major international organizations who flew to Beijing for Friday’s opening of the Winter Olympic Games.
Not having left China since 2019 amid the pandemic, Xi is holding a series of meetings on the sidelines of the Games with leaders whose mostly undemocratic countries are anxious to strengthen relations with the rising superpower and increasingly identify with its political model of strict, one-party rule.
Also Saturday, Xi met with the heads of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Serbia, Ecuador and Qatar. The leaders of Argentina and Poland are also among those in town.
Xi met also with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who expressed hopes for closer cooperation on “peace and security, sustainable development, including climate change and biodiversity, and human rights,” according to U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq.
Guterres also said he hopes that China will allow U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to make a “credible visit” to China, including Xinjiang, where a million or more Uyghurs have been detained in political re-education camps. China describes the facilities as centers for job training and de-radicalization and says all are now closed.
Beijing carefully controls access to the region, and says that while Bachelet has a standing invitation to visit, her trip must be “a friendly one” and should not start with “presumed guilt.”
An official Chinese readout of the meeting made no mention of either Xinjiang or human rights, but quoted Xi, who is also leader of the ruling Communist Party, as saying “promoting democracy” should be a priority, in a reference to China’s claims that its own system is just as valid or even superior to the Western multi-party model.
“President Xi pointed out that no system should be regarded as the only model to follow, nor is there a single development model that fits all. Every country has the right to choose a path that suits its national realities and meets its people’s needs,” the statement said.
The meetings follow a mini-summit between Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday that underscored the growing alignment of their authoritarian countries’ positions as they push back against the liberal world order dominated by the U.S.
The two leaders oversaw the signing of more than 20 agreements covering trade, energy and other fields and issued a joint statement in which China backed Russia in opposing NATO’s expansion, a move seen as signifying Xi’s growing perception of himself as a global leader.
“President Putin emphasized that the strategic significance of Russia-China relations is unprecedented,” Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng said in a commentary on the meeting posted to the ministry’s website.
“Russia firmly supports China’s legitimate position of safeguarding its core interests,” Le said. “During the talks, the two heads of state reiterated that any attempt to harm the interests of China and Russia and divide China-Russia relations is doomed to failure.”
While China formally eschews all military alliances, the sides have held a series of joint war games, including naval drills and patrols by long-range bombers over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea. In August, Russian troops for the first time deployed to Chinese territory for joint maneuvers.
Putin has also noted that Russia has been sharing highly sensitive military technologies with China that helped significantly bolster its defense capability.
All the leaders of the five former Soviet republics of Central Asia came to Beijing, highlighting the region’s increasingly close ties to its eastern neighbor. Trade has been booming between China and the region, a key source of gas and other resources for the Chinese economy.
In his meeting Saturday with Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, Xi said China is “unswerving in its support for Kazakhstan’s safeguarding of its own independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
China issued strong backing for Tokayev’s government during deadly street protests last month, though unlike Russia, it did not send troops to help restore order.
“China is ready to deepen security cooperation with Kazakhstan,” Xi said, according to CGTN.
Tokayev “thanked China for supporting Kazakhstan’s efforts to reject external interference and maintain its own security and stability,” CGTN said.
Xi’s meetings with Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic were equally upbeat, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
In his meeting with Vucic, who has been criticized for his increasingly authoritarian rule, Xi hailed the “ironclad friendship” between China and Serbia, saying the countries enjoy “high-level political mutual trust.”
The U.S. and several other Western democracies declined to send dignitaries to Beijing under a diplomatic boycott to protest China‘s human rights record and policies in Xinjiang.
Others have stayed away due to COVID-19 restrictions, making for a very different guest list from that of the 2008 Beijing Summer Games, when most major world leaders were in attendance.
“With some exceptions, the high-level attendees at this year’s Games make up a rogue’s gallery of authoritarian leaders and those in thrall to Chinese cash,” said Michael Mazza, a China specialist with the American Enterprise Institute.
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