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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 November 2018

A new order in an ancient friendship

The relationship between the UAE and China is greater than the sum of its parts

Xi Jinping and Peng Liyuan, First Lady of China bid farewell at the Presidential Airport. Mohamed Al Hammadi/Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi
Xi Jinping and Peng Liyuan, First Lady of China bid farewell at the Presidential Airport. Mohamed Al Hammadi/Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi

Only a select few individuals have received the Order of Zayed, the UAE’s highest civil decoration, named after the Founding Father.

That the leadership of this country inducted Chinese President Xi Jinping into this distinguished hall of fame on his first state visit is a measure of the depth of the synergy between China and the UAE.

As Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said on Twitter: “We are similar to [China] in our style of management and philosophy, and they are the closest to us". His meetings with the UAE's leadership, Mr Xi said, "left a very deep impression on my mind".

A joint UAE-China statement as Mr Xi concluded his visit emphasised the bold vision that underpins a new dawn in that relationship, consolidated by the announcement of a comprehensive strategic partnership.

The two nations have agreed to enhance co-operation in the political, economic, technological, educational and scientific spheres, as reflected in the raft of agreements sealed by the two sides.

As Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid said, soft power marks the synergy between the two countries, where innovation, knowledge exchange and technology provide touchstones for political and economic bonds.

In addition, co-operation between the two nations will extend to the defence sector, with high-level military exchanges envisaged in the future.

Behind the pomp and ceremony of the three-day extravaganza, there was purpose, ambition and vision.

The UAE is committed to the One China principle while supporting the UAE’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is embedded in Beijing’s foreign policy.

The country will be a key partner in the development of the Belt and Road Initiative, which will revive, on a grander and more extensive scale, the ancient Silk Road; conferences such as the economic forum held on Friday in Abu Dhabi heighten awareness of the project.

The enthusiasm with which Emiratis have approached Chinese culture in the run-up to and during Mr Xi’s visit bespeaks a bond that transcends commercial interests and geopolitics.

Chinese celebrities have had the red carpet treatment as part of UAE-China Week, which saw the launch of the first Chinese language radio station and television channel in this country. Going forward, there will be annual concerts and festivals featuring Chinese films.

Mr Xi’s hugely successful state visit – his first to an Arab nation since his re-election to the presidency earlier this year – has made it abundantly clear that the relationship between the UAE and China, underpinned by multiple interests and suffused with genuine affection and respect for each other’s heritage, is greater than the sum of its parts.