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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 28 May 2018

Expo 2020 Dubai will help strengthen our warm friendship with China

The UAE's evolving relationship with China epitomises the theme of connecting minds, creating the future, writes Reem Al Hashimy

China has risen to become the UAE's top trading partner in the world over the past half decade. The National
China has risen to become the UAE's top trading partner in the world over the past half decade. The National

China’s participation in Expo 2020 Dubai, confirmed this month, will be an outstanding example of our goal to create a better future through collaboration.

The most populous nation’s attempt to connect 60 countries in its ambitious One Belt, One Road initiative epitomises the Expo 2020 theme "Connecting Minds, Creating the Future" as we work to collectively impact society while preserving the planet.

The UAE’s evolving bilateral relationship with China has become one of our most important partnerships. Through connections at all levels – government-to-government, business-to-business and person-to-person – we are working together towards a better future for both countries and the wider region.

China’s enthusiastic participation in Expo 2020 affords a strong opportunity for the UAE to strengthen its warm and historic ties with the government of China, leading up to, during and beyond the event. It also creates an opportunity to deepen understanding at an individual level.

We will have many stages on which China can showcase its rich history and culture. Chinese New Year, one of the most important festivals on the international calendar, will for the first time fall during the six-month duration of a World Expo and we will put on a celebration to remember at Expo 2020, which runs from October 20 to April 10, 2021.

China might also be the first country to curate an event in Al Wasl Plaza, using the domed trellis’s huge 360-degree projection surface that allows for a truly immersive show. The Year of the Ox falls in 2021 and we expect China will put on a sensational experience for all visitors.

Located in Expo 2020’s Opportunity-themed district, China’s 4,636 square metre pavilion will be one of the largest. This illustrates the country’s deep recognition and understanding of the importance of the UAE’s platform in 2020 and celebrates China’s commitment to expos, as a former host of Expo 2010 Shanghai and future host of the next horticultural expo in 2019.

The pavilion will highlight the goals of the One Belt, One Road initiative, a programme in which the UAE will play a prominent role, reinforcing our position as the premier trade and logistics hub for China.

Since 2014, China has already risen to become the UAE’s top trading partner while the UAE is one of China’s most important trading partners in the region.

We are also already actively partnering with China in a number of strategic co-investments. For example, the UAE-China Joint Investment Fund enables our countries to jointly deploy capital in projects of strategic and commercial importance.

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As the world’s second biggest oil consumer, we have welcomed China’s expanded participation in the UAE’s hydrocarbon sector. In a 40-year agreement signed in February, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) awarded an 8 per cent stake in Abu Dhabi’s onshore oil concession to China National Petroleum Corporation, the country's largest oil and gas producer and supplier.

Abu Dhabi Ports also recently signed an agreement with the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade to explore new commercial opportunities.

The One Belt, One Road initiative has the potential to take this developing economic relationship even further. Stretching across more than 60 countries in Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe, it brings back to life the ancient Silk Road, an important 2,000-year-old trade corridor, this time including both land and sea lanes.

This aligns with the UAE’s "look East" policy and opens up a plethora of new opportunities for Emirati businesses, including Expo 2020 Dubai’s Premier Global Trade Partner DP World, which operates several ports along the route. It also benefits the 4,000 Chinese businesses with offices in the UAE.

Few initiatives have received so much support in only five years: more than 100 countries and international organisations are involved and China has signed free trade agreements with 11 countries and bilateral investment agreements with 56 countries. The initiative has also led to 18 economic and trade cooperation zones so far. This is an extraordinary example of collaboration leading to positive results.

Expo 2020 Dubai, which expects to welcome 180 countries and 25 million visits, is an opportune platform for China to showcase its vision and the admirable progress already made.

With an unprecedented 70 per cent of expo visitors expected to come from outside the UAE, the event will also be a platform to showcase China’s emerging position as a force in innovation and strengthening credentials as a global leader in efforts to address climate change, issues that naturally chime with Expo 2020’s goals.

Our decision to locate country pavilions based on their chosen sub-theme – opportunity, mobility or sustainability – will better position China to engage in natural dialogue and discussion with countries with similar interests, compared to expos with a traditional, geography-based layout.

The China pavilion will no doubt draw large crowds, both from abroad and within China, including 100,000 young Chinese people.

Our dual visa-free arrangements with China are leading to double-figure growth in Chinese tourists – who will be a significant market for Expo 2020 – to the UAE. They are already the fifth largest source of visitors to Dubai, with 258,000 during the first three months of 2018, and we expect that to grow as we move towards to 2020.

Our friends have even joined in our celebration of the Year of Zayed with a Zayed University exhibition at the Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Cultural Centre and Mosque at the Beijing Foreign Studies University in China.

I am confident and excited to see this warm friendship strengthen further as we experience China’s conspicuous participation in Expo 2020 Dubai.

Reem Al Hashimy is the UAE's Minister of State for International Cooperation and director general of Expo 2020 Dubai