China, which is rapidly expanding its interests and contacts in the Middle East, is sending a high-level delegation on an official visit to Egypt later this month.
The Chinese visit, which has been under discussion for months, will apparently come at an opportune time for Egypt, which is eager to polish its credentials as a nonaligned naiton to counter Arab accusations that it has become a tool of the United States.
According to Cairo newspapers , whose reports were confirmed by the Foreign Ministry, the delegation from Peking is to be headed by Politburo memberr Ulanfu. The Chinese will stay in Egypt four days and hold talks with President Anwar Sadat and other officials.
The visit is the latest sign of a remarkable surge of Chinese interest and activity in the Middle East, an interest that has cut across ideological lines as China seeks friends among monarchs and radicals alike. Probably not by coincidence, the Chinese moves have been in countries where they have an opportunity to supplant or counter the influence of the Soviet Union.
In May, China established diplomatic relations with the sultanate of Oman, one of the most conservative and anticommunist of the Arab countries. Unconfirmed reports in Arab newspapers said the Chinese were expected to help Sultan Qaboos of Oman put down a revived insurgency in the sultanate's Dhofar province. That insurgency has been sustained only with the aid of Oman's Soviet-dominated neighbor, South Yemen.
In August, China's COmmunist Party Chairman Hua Kuo-feng made a highly publicized visit to Iran, a visit seen here as a nose-thumbing gesture to Iran's northern neighbor, the Soviet Union.
The same month, according to Arab Press reports, China signed new development asistance agreements with North Yemen, which was once firmly in the Soviet camp but is at odds with South Yemen and an outspoken critic of Soviet influence there.
Then the number two man in the Libyan regime, Maj. Abdelsalam Jalloud, visited Peking. Until then, Libya, one of the most radical and pro-Soviet Arab countries, recognized and maintained diplomatic relations with the nationalist Chinese government on Taiwan. In a development that diplomats said was without precedent, Peking agreed to establish diplomatic relations with Libya without insisting that Libya break its ties to Taiwan.
There have even been signs that the Chinese would like to open contacts with Saudi Arabia, which has no diplomatic ties to any communist country. Late last year, the Cairo correspondent of the New China News Agency was authorized to apply for a visa to Saudi Arabia. The Saudis turned him down.
Then recently, Peking's People's Daily printed a long article that included high praise of the policies and accomplishments of the Saudis, especially the "huge aid supplied to Egypt and other countries, strengthening their struggle to protect national sovereignty and independence and to resist interference by the superpowers."
Peking's relations with Egypt improved from correct to warm immediately after Sadat's decision in March, 1976, to abrogate Egypt's treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union.
Shortly thereafter, Egyptian Vice President Hosni Mobaruk received a lavish welcome on a tour of China, and China announced it was prepared to supply some spare parts for Egypt's crumbling. Soviet-supplied military equipment.
In fact, China has supplied little more than "fortune cookies," as a well-informed Egyptian put it yesterday, but the Egyptians never had any illusions about China's ability to provide real material assistance. For both countries, their good relations are of more political and symbolic than economic or military value.