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DIPLOMACY: A New Romance

3 minute read

When Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat canceled his country’s friendship treaty with the Soviet Union in March, he gave China a long-awaited chance to develop its own special relationship with Egypt. Within days after Sadat’s action, Peking announced that it would give Sadat 30 new engines for Egypt’s aging Soviet-built MIGS—a direct slap at the Soviets, who had refused to supply spare parts for the planes and had forbidden India to do so.

The romance between China and Egypt came into full bloom last week. The two countries signed a pact under which Peking, in addition to supplying an undisclosed amount of military hardware to Cairo, will provide $50 million worth of strategic raw materials for Egyptian industry and boost Sino-Egyptian trade from $450 million in 1975 to more than $600 million this year. The signing of the agreement capped a six-day visit to Peking by Egyptian Vice President Hosny Mubarak. Declared the Egyptian at his farewell banquet in Peking: “She [China] proves not only by words but also by deeds that she faithfully fulfills her obligations.”

Despite the glowing communiqués, China is not in a position to give Egypt the kind of sophisticated military hardware it needs to counter Israel’s U.S.-supplied forces. The Chinese used to produce MIG-17s and can help Egypt with spare parts for those near-obsolete planes. They also have a modified version of the MIG-21, but they are equipped with engines that are not adaptable to Egypt’s Soviet-built MIG-21s. Admits one observer: “The Chinese may be able to supply a nut or a bolt here and there, but nothing big enough to solve Egypt’s arms problem.” That means the Egyptians will still have to look to Western Europe and the U.S. for most of their new military hardware. Still, with the signing, Sadat’s anti-Soviet posture has been even more clearly defined. He is now closer to Moscow’s enemies both on the right (the U.S.) and on the left (China). The agreement, which after the break with Russia again allies Egypt with a Communist giant, could also make Sadat somewhat more palatable to the Arab left.

Major Foothold. China may benefit even more. The pact with Egypt provides a long-sought, major foothold for Peking in the Arab world. China has wanted to extend its influence into the Mediterranean for at least a decade. Until now its advances to the Arabs have been rebuffed, at least partly by Saudi Arabian suspicions of Communists and Egypt’s need, in the face of massive Israeli military superiority, to acquire Soviet weapons technology. Concludes TIME Hong Kong Correspondent David Aikman: “In Peking, there must be only smiles. China has replaced Moscow as Egypt’s ally, put its foot into a brand new region of the world and achieved its most significant diplomatic coup since entering the U.N.”

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