The Suez Canal is among the most important chokepoints of the world. Controlled by Egypt, the Suez Canal is a major source of income for the North African nation. Recently, when the Suez Canal was blocked by an Evergreen shipping vessel, world trade was paralysed, and countries were left helpless. They could do nothing but spectate mutely, and wait for the blockade to be removed. In the absence of the Suez Canal, and during its blockade, the only other route for shipping and trade vessels is to sail all around Africa, via the Cape of Good Hope. About 12 per cent of global trade, around one million barrels of oil and roughly 8 per cent of liquefied natural gas pass through the canal each day. During the blockade of the canal, Egypt’s revenues suffered a daily financial setback to the tune of $14 to $15 million. Therefore, the Suez Canal as has been established, is very important. In recent times, however, Egypt has got itself in bed with China – and as an immediate consequence, gotten itself embroiled in Beijing’s exploitative Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
By 2019, China had become the largest investor in the development of Egypt’s megaproject – the Suez Canal Corridor Area Project, which was launched in 2014 and is aimed at increasing the role of the Suez Canal region in international trading. China is a major participant and investor in the same. This is not a good indicator for the free world order, much of whose fortunes depend on the Suez Canal. If China comes and hegemonises the Suez Canal, the world will have a dispute in the Mediterranean and Red Sea, and in the Canal itself, just as it does in the South China Sea.
However, Russia has now stepped into the picture, and is all set to dismantle China’s nefarious Suez Canal dreams. Egypt announced on Thursday it had signed an agreement with Russia to expand the Russian industrial zone in the country’s Suez Canal Economic Zone (SCZone). Under the deal, the Russian zone will be extended to East Port Said and Ain Sokhna over an area of 5 million square meters.
In a statement, SCZone President Yehya Zaki explained that the expansion of the Russian zone will allow the entry of more Russian companies, adding that the SCZone is a window to Africa and the wider world due to its strategic location. This is a strategic message by Egypt and Russia to China. Russia is already getting heavily involved in Africa as it seeks new areas for expanding its influence. The Suez Canal, apart from serving immediate Russian interests of easier and unfettered access to Africa, can also work wonders in discounting the growing Chinese clout which has come to exist in the crucial chokepoint.
Russia itself is not very enthusiastic about the Suez Canal, and is working on an alternate ‘Northern Sea Route’ encompassing the Arctic region in order to develop an independent trade route for itself – free from any foreign interference. Yet, for it to commit to the Suez Canal and its industrial zone’s development is a move aimed squarely at countering China. It is also payback for Xi Jinping turning his dirty eyes towards the Russian Far East and the Arctic.
If we connect an Arctic route connecting Asia with Europe and combine it with North-South Economic Corridor, connecting India, Central Asia, the Persian Peninsula with Russia and Europe, it can turn out to become the lifeline of international trade. This was already enough of a headache for China. With India continuously breathing down its throat in the Strait of Malacca – which China depends on for almost all of its energy needs – and now, Russia beginning to take steps to counteract Beijing’s influence in the Suez Canal and Africa, what Xi Jinping has is a massive migraine.
This is what happens when expansionist nations stretch their luck way too far. In the 21st century, no one country will be allowed to dominate the world. The era of Adolf Hitler is over, and while Xi Jinping is quite a despot himself, his muscles can only be used against the Chinese people. When he acts too smart and out of his league, he will be thrashed left, right and centre.