by Aly Thabet
BEIJING, March 10 (Xinhua) -- The ongoing "two sessions" in Beijing hold great significance not only for China's own development but also for other nations interested in understanding China's future growth trajectory and global impact.
The "two sessions" refer to the annual sessions of China's National People's Congress (NPC) and the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which are the country's top legislature and national political advisory body, respectively.
China's opening-up policy remains one of the most discussed topics at the political event this year. The government work report submitted Sunday to the national legislature for deliberation demonstrates the steady progress and China's impressive determination on the policy, saying that "We remained committed to opening up wider to the world and expanded international economic and trade cooperation to deliver mutually beneficial outcomes."
As an Egyptian living in China for years, I have witnessed the country's wider opening-up pursuit, and I believe an open China is vital to the struggling global economic recovery.
STORIES BEHIND "THINNER" SUITCASES
I have friends of different nationalities who share the same feeling that our suitcases are "thinner" these days when returning to China from holidays. Over a decade ago, my family would always stuff my suitcase with cheese, dates, spices and other local specialties before I returned to China.
Now, however, more global products are entering the Chinese market through platforms such as the China International Import Expo (CIIE). With Arab specialties including Egyptian oranges, dates from the United Arab Emirates and essential oils from Syria easily available in Chinese supermarkets, I no longer need to carry these things all the way to China.
According to the government work report, China developed new forms of foreign trade over the past five years and built 152 new integrated pilot zones for cross-border e-commerce. Major trade events such as CIIE, the China Import and Export Fair, the China International Fair for Trade in Services, and the China International Consumer Products Expo have delivered positive results.
Furthermore, China simplified customs clearance procedures and reduced the clearance time for imports and exports by 67 percent and 92 percent, respectively, bringing about a significant reduction in related compliance costs, the work report added.
Amidst the growing trend of trade protectionism and the so-called "decoupling and severing industrial and supply chains" by some developed countries, China's efforts toward trade liberalization and facilitation have become increasingly crucial.
With an enormous market of more than 1.4 billion people, China is the world's largest goods trader, a major trading partner of over 140 countries and regions, and has the world's second-largest consumer market and import market. There is no doubt that China is a key hub of the global economic cycle, benefiting the entire world with the dividends of its super-sized market.
STRONG MAGNET FOR FOREIGN INVESTMENT
"Intensifying efforts to attract and utilize foreign investment," as stated in the government work report, is one of the key priorities of the Chinese government's economic work in 2023.
During my over a decade-long experience of living in China, I have seen an increasing number of international companies investing in the country. When enterprises first entered China, most of them just regarded it as the "factory of the world." But later many of these companies set up research and development centers here to continuously increase the added value of their industrial chains.
In 2022, foreign direct investment in the Chinese mainland, in actual use, expanded 8 percent year on year to 189.13 billion U.S. dollars, reinforcing its status as a magnet for foreign investors.
Among Arab countries, Gulf countries' investment in China is particularly eye-catching. Saudi Aramco, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, Kuwait National Petroleum Company and other energy giants have carried out in-depth investment cooperation with many Chinese provinces and enterprises.
China and Arab countries have adhered to pursuing mutual benefits, promoted trade and investment facilitation, and multiplied the growth of mutual investment and economic and trade cooperation, according to the Saudi Arabian newspaper Alriyadh.
The sovereign wealth funds of Gulf states have long been mainly invested in developed markets in Europe and the United States. In recent years, as China-Arab relations have continued to improve and their economic ties deepened, China's market and assets are gradually favored by sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East.
In 2018, Abu Dhabi Global Market, an international financial center in Abu Dhabi, opened its first overseas representative office in Beijing.
Ajlan & Bros Holding Group, a leading investment holding company in the Middle East and one of the largest private enterprises of Saudi Arabia in China, has been doing business in China for more than 20 years. With the increasingly close economic and trade exchanges between China and Saudi Arabia, the company has set up four investment offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hong Kong since 2017.
Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) has jumped onto the bandwagon of China's green development. The company announced a carbon-neutral strategy and plans to actively expand investment cooperation in China.
"We need to 'join hands' with each other instead of 'letting go' of each other's hands. We need to 'tear down walls,' not 'erect walls.'" I was deeply impressed by these inspiring words by Chinese President Xi Jinping, and I believe China walks its talk.
A sentence in the government work report fully expresses China's confidence in attracting more foreign investment, saying that with a vast and open market, China is sure to provide even greater business opportunities for foreign companies in China.
MORE FRIENDS, MORE CHANCES
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which has attracted more than three-quarters of the world's countries and 32 international organizations.
Over the past decade, Chinese companies have invested 397.9 billion yuan (about 57 billion U.S. dollars) in cooperation zones built in countries along the Belt and Road, creating 421,000 local jobs.
The BRI has made significant contributions to Egypt's modernization process and a notable example is the country's new administrative capital.
A modern city is taking shape in the desert east of Cairo, the capital of Egypt. Constructed by a Chinese company, the Central Business District (CBD) in Egypt's new administrative capital boasts the tallest building in Africa, standing at 385.8 meters.
This achievement is a testament to the growing friendship between Egypt and China. The project is nearing completion within just over four years. According to Egypt's Al-Ahram newspaper, "China speed" makes Egypt's dream come true.
From material selection to the application of technologies, the project embodies the concept of green development and can help Cairo effectively deal with air pollution and other "big city diseases."
The CBD in Egypt's new administrative capital has become a popular spot, bustling with visitors. I would go there every time I go back to Egypt.
The outcomes of high-quality BRI development are spread across Africa. I have experienced the Chinese-built Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway. From the station to the trains, I was struck by the modern scene around me. Passengers were enjoying the convenience and efficiency of the self-service ticket vending machines, while the crew provided excellent services.
China's high-level opening-up has been a continuous success, and the BRI has become an international public good and a platform for international cooperation, Karim Adel, head of the Cairo-based Al Adl Center for Economic and Strategic Studies, told Xinhua.
China's other initiatives, especially the Global Development Initiative and the Global Security Initiative, have also won the support of many countries, Adel added.
Last year, I had the privilege of participating in the translation and review work of the Arabic version of the fourth volume of "Xi Jinping: The Governance of China." With every word I read, I gained a deeper appreciation for the thoughts of the Chinese leader.
In 2021, Xi said that on the road to the well-being of all humankind, no country or nation should be left behind. All countries and nations are equally entitled to development opportunities and rights to development, Xi said at the Communist Party of China and World Political Parties Summit. His words deeply touched me.
There is an Arabic proverb that goes, "If you want to walk fast, walk alone. But if you want to walk far, walk together," just like how in China people often say "more friends, more chances."
China is a country committed to high-level opening-up and I firmly believe that its efforts will bring more concrete opportunities to the world. ■