After 35 years of diplomacy, UAE-China ties – economic, political and cultural – are both comprehensive and mutually beneficial, writes Dr Sultan Al Jaber
Strong bilateral relations serve the strategic interests of both China and the UAE
The first visit by President Xi Jinping to the UAE marks a significant milestone in the relationship between our two countries, as we approach the 35th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations.
Over nearly three and a half decades, our relationship has deepened and strengthened in line with China’s increasing importance as a global economic powerhouse.
Last year, bilateral trade between China and the UAE jumped 15 per cent to top $52 billion and has grown an impressive 800-fold since 1984, making China one of the UAE’s top trading partners. Today our trading relations span a wide range of sectors, including energy, logistics, infrastructure, manufacturing, technology, finance, education, culture and tourism.
As China’s economy grows, one of its primary strategic objectives is securing a long-term reliable supply of energy. The UAE has emerged as a trusted partner in this area, after landmark agreements that awarded China National Petroleum Corporation shares in Abu Dhabi’s 40-year onshore and offshore concessions in 2017 and 2018.
Yet our relationship is far more than transactional. It is rooted in cultural links that go back centuries, from the porcelain and pearl trade that first connected China to the Arab world in the 7th century to the Ming Dynasty explorations of Zheng He, who established the Maritime Silk Road connecting China with Arabia and Africa.
Today, Chinese nationals living and working in the UAE represent a sizeable 180,000-strong community and make a valuable contribution to the economic and cultural diversity of Emirati life.
UAE-China ties have developed into a strategic relationship that is based on mutual interest, common values and, above all, a belief that peace, stability and prosperity are interdependent. China and the UAE both believe regional economic development is a vital strategic interest that underpins regional security.
This shared world view is exemplified by the Belt and Road Initiative, a bold vision that President Xi Jinping laid out in 2013 to revive the ancient Silk Road, help develop the economies along the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, and transform the land, sea and air links between Asia, Europe and Africa.
Given our unique geographic location, at the gateway between East and West, the UAE can play a pivotal role in helping realise that vision. The advanced logistical capabilities of our ports – in particular in Dubai and Abu Dhabi – have established the UAE as a critical trading hub that connects Europe, Africa and Asia.
In fact, last year’s agreement between Abu Dhabi Ports and Cosco Shipping to build a container terminal that will double Abu Dhabi’s handling capacity will only strengthen the UAE’s capability in this regard.
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The importance of the UAE-China relationship has been further enhanced by the establishment of a $10 billion strategic co-investment fund, which was launched in 2015 to focus on diversified commercial investments in a range of growth sectors. President Xi said at the time that the fund would play a critical role in supporting the Belt and Road Initiative.
Our shared commitment to developing trade capacity and increasing economic growth across the Belt and Road region is also demonstrated by our membership of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which aims to accelerate funding for vital infrastructure projects throughout Asia. The AIIB has so far provided funding for critical water, energy and infrastructure projects in 12 countries in Asia and last year it approved its first project outside Asia — financing solar power projects with an aggregate capacity of 490 MW in Egypt.
Over the last three decades, the wise leadership of both our countries have guided significant domestic progress and also made substantial contributions to international development. By continuing to reinforce our relations, culturally, politically and economically, we will achieve even greater benefits for our peoples, promote enduring advancement beyond our borders and underpin regional stability.
Dr Sultan Al Jaber is Minister of State of the United Arab Emirates