Taiwan and Egypt will exchange ambassadors this year in the first diplomatic breakthrough since the two countries severed official ties 44 years ago, Foreign Minister Tien Hung-mao said Friday.
Offices to facilitate tourist and business exchanges would be set up in each other's capitals, Tien told reporters.
"It's an important progress in the government's foreign relations...Egypt plays an important role in Arabic countries," he said.
Opening an Economic and Cultural Office in Cairo was seen as a breakthrough in relations with Egypt and a diplomatic score for the government of President Chen Shui-bian by some observers.
"Taiwan has for a long time wanted to establish relations with Egypt. This is a breakthrough for Taiwan," said Lee Deng-kei, professor of the department of diplomacy at the National Chengchi University.
Egypt switched recognition from Taiwan to China in 1956, and has since maintained close ties with Beijing, which considers the island part of its territory awaiting reunification.
Chinese President Jiang Zemin made his second visit to Egypt in April.
The swap of offices did not mean that Egypt "is hostile or unfriendly" towards China, Tien said.
Cairo wanted to boost ties with Taipei as it recognized the importance of Taiwan in the world economy and that its people had strong buying power, he added.
"The major function of the offices is to provide services as more and more people here are traveling to the area," Tien said.
Taiwan-Egypt trade reached 211.8 million US dollars in 1999, down 16 percent from a year earlier, and more than 10,000 Taiwanese travel to Egypt each year.
Taiwan is recognized by 29 nations, mostly small or poor countries in Latin America and Africa. But it maintains unofficial ties with 59 countries, in which 96 Taiwan offices are in operation -- TAIPEI (AFP)
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