What’s Mohammed Morsi Doing in China?

From the October-November 2012 Trumpet Print Edition

On August 28, Mohammed Morsi landed in Beijing and was warmly welcomed by Chinese President Hu Jintao. For two days, the president and his 80-person entourage of Egyptian business leaders and politicians discussed billions of dollars in investment projects and deals with some 200 Chinese counterparts.

This was Morsi’s first state visit outside the Middle East and Africa since he became president. It was no routine state visit. China is the nation world leaders visit when they want to oppose and undermine America.

China’s foreign policy right now is substantially aimed at undermining U.S. power. You can see it in china’s ongoing naval and military expansions; its regional territorial acquisitions; its maneuvering inside international organizations like the World Trade organization; even its outright support of anti-American states like Venezuela and North Korea. More than any other reason, this is why China remains an ally of Iran.

The fact that Morsi chose to visit china indicates that Egypt may be looking to join this Iran-china axis.

On August 24, David Schenker and Christina Lin wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Timesin which they warned that “if Morsi gets his way, improved bilateral ties to Beijing will embolden, if not enable, Cairo to downgrade Egypt’s ties to Washington.”

For more than 30 years, Egypt has relied chiefly on America for financial, political and military support. It has received tens of billions of dollars in food, merchandise and military hardware. This has given America great leverage: To receive this aid, Cairo has basically had to endorse, even if unwillingly, U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa. As long as Washington held the purse strings, Cairo could not practically engage in any actions overtly hostile to U.S. foreign policy.

That will change if Morsi can decouple Egypt from Washington, and Egypt develops a significant partnership with China.

Morsi cultivating a friendship with china may also indicate that he is planning some radical changes to Egypt’s foreign policy such as severing or rewriting Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel; forming some sort of political or trade agreement with Iran; perhaps exploiting the Suez canal as leverage against the U.S. or Europe. These moves would be controversial and un-popular, and could provoke some heated responses from the international community. But with china’s support, Egypt is far likelier to withstand the inevitable backlash.

From China’s perspective, Morsi’s outstretched hand is a no-brainer. Egypt is the largest Arab country in the Middle East. It owns massive stockpiles of American military hardware. And Cairo isn’t one to harp on respect for human rights, currency manipulation or trade equality.

Beyond all that, a partnership with Egypt comes with enormous benefits for china’s maritime ambitions. Egypt controls the Suez Canal, one of the world’s most important sea lanes. For China, or any global power,developing a healthy relationship with the government that controls the Suez is a strategic necessity. That appears to be something that the United States has lost.