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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 20 July 2018

UAE to welcome China president Xi Jinping in landmark state visit

Trip will coincide with spectacular celebration of Chinese culture across the country

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and the Deputy Commander of the UAE armed forces meets Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in December 2015. Fred Dufour / AFP Photo
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and the Deputy Commander of the UAE armed forces meets Chinese President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing in December 2015. Fred Dufour / AFP Photo

China's president will tour the UAE next week in one of the largest state visits the country has ever hosted.

The visit by Xi Jinping from July 19 to 21 will coincide with a spectacular celebration of Chinese culture across the country.

Cinemas will show Chinese productions and the spotlight will be placed on China's 200,000-strong expat community, as well as the crucial ties in business, tourism and diplomacy.

For example Dubai Opera will host a Chinese dance special on Sunday, while Chinese TV series and drama will also be screened on channels here.

The UAE Ministry of Economy released details of a UAE-China Economic Forum to take place on July 20.

According to the ministry, the forum will look at investment opportunities in each of the seven emirates.

It will also hear from Minister of Economy Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansoori and Chinese minister of commerce Zhong Shan.

Writing in The National about the visit next week, Dr Sultan Al Jaber, Minister of State of the UAE, said ties between the two countries were growing strongly.

"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," he wrote.

"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."

Tourism is also crucial. In January, China exempted UAE nationals from obtaining pre-entry visas, with the possibility of staying for up to 30 days on each visit, while Chinese tourists coming to the UAE are eligible for visa on arrival.

The fruits of this move were seen in the latest figures for hotel stays in Abu Dhabi. Over the first three months of the year, China was the leading international market for hotel guests. More than 127,000 Chinese visitors stayed in Abu Dhabi, a surge of 31 per cent on the same period last year.

The UAE and China established diplomatic relations in November 1984 and the UAE opened its embassy in Beijing on March 19, 1987. It also opened consulates in Hong Kong in 2000, Shanghai in 2006 and in Guangzhou in 2016.

China opened its embassy in Abu Dhabi in April 1985 and its consulate in Dubai in November 1988.

The UAE and China's commercial exchange in the first half of 2017 reached around US$20.25 billion, with $13.97bn accounting for China’s exports to UAE while $7.871bn accounted for the value of imports from the UAE.

Direct flights by UAE national carriers to China stand at about 60 a week.

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The visit by Mr Xi is the culmination of a flowering of relations over the past few decades. Three years after the UAE opened its embassy in Beijing, Sheikh Zayed visited China for the first time. The Founding Father of the UAE was the first GCC leader to visit the country and his May 1990 trip included visits to the Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China.

Sheikh Zayed also promised to establish an Arab and Islamic studies centre in Beijing. The UAE Centre for the Study of Islamic Culture and the Teaching of the Arabic Language opened four years later and was renamed the Sheikh Zayed Centre for Arabic Language and Islamic Studies during a visit by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, in 2012. Sheikh Mohammed visited China again in 2015 at the request of Mr Xi and also visited the Great Wall.

Sheikh Zayed laid the foundations for a strong UAE-China relationship. Twenty-seven years on, Mr Xi's visit is the culmination of years of work and ushers in a new era of cooperation between the two countries.

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