Egypt is determined to rise from devastation of the West-led “Arab Spring” by building a glitzy new capital between the existing one in Cairo and the Suez Canal. The move aimed at building a pollution-free and sustainable city has won the support of many oil-rich Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates, which have pledged to provide the bulk of the $15 to 20 billion expenditure.
In these times of falling oil prices, this is a bold step to capture new development fronts, which could also check Cairo’s population explosion and traffic congestion pressures.
Many Chinese may think Egypt’s bold plan offers them the investment opportunity they desperately need to further the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road initiatives.
But more than that, Egypt’s move has offered timely food for thought for China’s top policymakers, especially with regard the integration of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province. China has accelerated the pace of building an integrated economic belt with Beijing at the center. But an overarching strategy is still to take final shape.
Unlike Egypt’s ambitious plan to build a new eco-friendly capital, China’s focus on integral development is aimed more at reducing smog, air and water pollution, and traffic jams. Comparatively speaking, Beijing’s expansion plan is not ambitious, bold or innovative enough.
Cairo has a population of more than 18 million, almost the same as that of Beijing and nearly double that of the capitals of several advanced European countries, such as Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, Greece and Denmark.
The planned new capital between Cairo and the Suez Canal will eventually house 7 million people, and have eco-friendly streets-thanks to fewer cars-10,000 kilometers of roads and 200 km of railways. Also, more than 2,000 schools and 600 hospitals have been planned for the new capital, reflecting the boldness and ambition of the Egyptian government.
Beijing has been expanding for the past few decades, “encroaching” on some towns of Tianjin and Hebei. But every morning, people flock to the center of the city and many of them commute back to sleeping residential communities in the suburbs and some small cities in Hebei. Despite this, Beijing has not had the ambition or vision to build a sister city, let alone a new capital, some discussions on the subject notwithstanding. This is the right time to give shape to such a project.
The least Beijing should do is to build several university campus towns, learning from the experience of Cambridge and Oxford. Perhaps it should also consider moving at least its top five universities to fledgling towns nearby, in Hebei for example. Better still, Beijing can consider establishing another 10 universities in the new region and develop the town into a campus city.
If this can be given shape, high-tech parks and industrial zones could be built in such a city within a decade. This plan is highly feasible given the existing high-speed railway and highway links with Beijing. By opening a new path of sustainable development, Cairo has offered a new development road for Beijing. And Beijing should take this opportunity to transform into an eco-friendly and innovative city, thus leaving a legacy for generations to follow.
The author is China Daily chief correspondent in Brussels. firstname.lastname@example.org
(China Daily 03/18/2015 page9)