UAE gears up for Chinese president's historic visit
The Chinese president arrives in the UAE on Thursday in a landmark visit seen as further cementing the increasingly close relationship between the two nations.
President Xi Jinping is expected to land by early evening, marking the beginning of an elaborate three-day celebration reserved only for the Emirate's most crucial global partners.
Rolling coverage of the highly anticipated visit will be beamed to millions both in China and throughout the Middle East.
Already the UAE has been in celebration mode this week - emblazing China's colours across buildings such as the Burj Khalifa, Burj Al Arab and Adnoc’s headquarters in Abu Dhabi.
Mr Xi’s visit is his first trip abroad since being re-elected in March and comes as both nations draw on their strengthening ties across commerce, culture, tourism and politics.
Only on Wednesday, Emaar Properties announced plans to build the Middle East’s biggest "Chinatown" shopping complex in Dubai as well as expand its Address hotel brand across China.
A key UAE-China Economic Forum is also expected to take place on Friday.
“The development of the new Chinese retail and lifestyle district at Dubai Creek Harbour – as well as Emaar’s expansion into China, both in property and hospitality – highlight our commitment to the country and our focus on contributing to the strength of UAE-China relations,” said Mohamed Alabbar, chairman of Emaar Properties.
In the run-up to Mr Xi's arrival, a spectacular celebration of Chinese culture has been taking place across the country.
Chinese superstar Bai Baihe was in town on Sunday to help launch a week-long festival showing the country's film industry, while on Tuesday UAE-China week opened at Manarat Al Saadiyat. Classical Chinese music, film screenings and traditional performances along with an Arabic programme including traditional oud playing, storytelling and henna have all been taking place.
“It’s a really important time for us to look at this relationship as not just economic or political ties but what will bond it together and that’s the cultural element,” said Noura Al Kaabi, Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development.
Writing in The National on Wednesday, Mr Xi reflected that the friendship between both countries had developed over thousands of years and had now progressed to a crucial, strategic partnership.
“Our two countries are geographically far apart and different in national conditions," he said. "But we are both proud to have enterprising and creative people who never give up on their dreams."
Co-operation extends across energy, logistics and finance and now Mr Xi’s “belt and road” initiative, aimed at increasing co-operation and trade between Eurasian countries.
Tourism is also crucial, with more than one million Chinese tourists visiting the UAE last year and a recent agreement to allow visa-free travel for Chinese citizens wanting to visit the Emirates.
Formal ties between the UAE and China were only established in 1984. Sheikh Zayed, the late President, visited six years later in a trip that sought to establish a new era of co-operation between both countries. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, also visited China in the years that followed.
Today, about 200,000 Chinese expatriates call the UAE their home, working across diverse fields such as construction, hospitality and energy and they have been in the spotlight all week.
The UAE's Rulers have welcomed the visit by Mr Xi. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said it would lead to a new phase of co-operation, while Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed said both countries play a pivotal role in the stability of the region.
"Over 28 years ago, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan visited China, founded the strategic relationship between the two countries that has yielded fruitful trade and investment as well as cultural relations for more than three decades," he said.
On Thursday, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, said in The National that the UAE is honoured to partner with China and welcome Mr Xi on this “historic visit”. He said China is a country steeped in history but was also “passionately looking towards the future”.
Mr Xi’s visit is the culmination of decades of efforts to build on those early links and concludes on Saturday.