x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Meet our exotic new friends

What do Haiti, Palau, Monaco and Liechtenstein have in common with the UAE? Well, not a lot, really. Except that all four are among the latest officially to open diplomatic relations with the Emirates.

They may not at first glance, appear to have much in common beyond their relative obscurity. But these four nations all boast newly-inked agreements establishing formal relations with the UAE, the result of a recent flurry of diplomatic activity. From voodoo practitioners and ancient pygmy bones to resettled former Guantanamo Bay inmates, tax refugees and the world's biggest manufacturer of dentures, Haiti, Palau, Monaco and Liechtenstein are nothing if not a varied bunch of countries.

But what do they have in common with the UAE? Well, not a lot, really. Except that all four are among the latest officially to open diplomatic relations with the Emirates. They have agreed to co-operate over trade, cultural and state visits, consular matters involving visas and suchlike. Generally, we've said we'll be nice to each other. The UAE has seen a flurry of activity on that front lately, with Liechtenstein, the most recent signatory, putting pen to paper last Thursday.

At the UN headquarters in New York, Ahmad al Jarman, the Emirates' Ambassador to the UN, shook hands with Christian Wenaweser, his Liechtensteiner counterpart, before both signed the history-making document, smiled winningly for the cameras and, one imagines, sat down to discuss the benefits of false teeth over the genuine article. Perhaps. So does the pact with these new friends mean we will be encouraged to start worshipping loa, the spirits who run the universe, according to Haitian voodoo mythology?

Then again, it might be that there is a move to adopt Palau's traditional matriarchal society, where it is the women of the Pacific Island who bequeath and inherit titles, land and money. Or, perhaps, the UAE will find itself awash with purveyors of Liechstensteiner dentures, plying their wares on every street corner and hoping we start speaking Alemannic, the German dialect common in the little Alpine country? Not quite, says Roland Marxer, the director of Liechtenstein's government office for foreign affairs, who still seems a little confused about the name of the country he has just signed up with. "The principality of Liechtenstein has now officially established diplomatic relations with the UAE. The next step will be that the Government of the UAE will accredit an ambassador to Liechtenstein," he said. "We have a very small country - you cannot find it on the map very easily. The two countries are very different, not just in terms of nature, but also culture. However, that does not mean we cannot find a way of co-operating. It might seem a bit strange to people from the UAE but for us, this is a normal way to operate." Liechtenstein cannot afford to have ambassadors posted in too many countries, so agreeing on diplomatic relations does the job, he said."It means we establish rules concerning the relationship between states rather than between individuals." Those links can help with anything from public and private sector trade deals to speeding up the process to replace lost passports. It follows that officials from each country will get the red-carpet treatment when they visit each other. So how many UAE residents have been to that green and pleasant land in the past? "I wouldn't have the answer to that," said Mr Marxer. What about the other way round, are there plenty of Liechtensteiners hankering for a taste of the Arabian desert and the Emirates' sultry heat? "I don't know," admitted the foreign affairs director. The Liechtenstein tourism board provided a little more information. According to its director, Roland Buchel, 32 people from the UAE visited last year, which amounts to less than 0.0007 per cent of the population. Perhaps as a result of the credit crunch, the figure had plummeted more than 11 per cent from the 36 who travelled to the country in 2007. Mr Buchel, too, was unable to provide the number of Liechtensteiners who visited the UAE. "We would be delighted in welcoming people from the UAE making holidays in Liechtenstein. The better a destination is known, the higher are the chances that people might consider visiting it sooner or later," he added. So, if you do fancy establishing your own diplomatic relations with Liechtenstein, or any of our three other new foreign chums, The National presents a potted guide to each.

A tiny haven for expatriates Ostensibly, it has a fair bit in common with the UAE: both host a Grand Prix, both have favourable tax regimes and both have a love of bling. In addition, about 85 per cent of the population in both countries are expatriates. There, though, the similarities end. Monaco is tiny, covering just under two square kilometres and with a population of fewer than 33,000. It takes an average of just 56 minutes to walk the width of the country - imagine attempting that in the Empty Quarter. Prince Albert II heads this constitutional monarchy, which was declared independent in 1861, although France is still responsible for its defence. It is the second smallest country in the world, after the Vatican City, and home to many wealthy inhabitants. Tourism is a mainstay of the country's income with visitors often drawn by the world-famous casino - although Monaco's citizens are not allowed to gamble there themselves. There is no individual income tax, which has triggered a tide of tax refugees, such as the British billionaire Sir Philip Green, the UK's ninth richest man with a personal fortune of £4.27 billion (Dh26bn), who has taken up residence in Monaco. Before 2002, when the euro was introduced, the country minted its own currency called the Monegasque franc. French is predominantly spoken but Monegasque, the local language, is still taught in schools. Do: Drop anchor in the Monaco harbour for one of the most glamorous trackside spots to watch Formula One, if you have a luxury yacht. Otherwise contend with glitterati-spotting in Monte Carlo. Don't: Say: "The Abu Dhabi Grand Prix is so much better than yours."

A new nation of shark-lovers This Pacific Ocean island 800km east of the Philippines only gained independence from UN trusteeship in 1994 and as such is one of the world's youngest sovereign states. Since then, it has formed diplomatic relations with numerous countries around the world. The tiny nation has some of the world's oldest formal cemeteries, containing the remains of a 3,000-year-old, pygmy-like people. It has enjoyed a rare matriarchal society for thousands of years with land, money and titles passed through the female line. The relatively recent occupation by the Japanese in the First World War established a patriarchal line, which has led to legal clashes between tribes. Spain, Germany and America have also had control over the island at different times, with one of the first European arrivals thought to have been the English sailor captain Henry Wilson, of the East India Company, who was shipwrecked there in 1783. The Japanese invaders established production lines for skipjack tuna and copra, or coconut kernel, in Palau. Aluminium and phosphate are also mined. In June this year, Palau offered to take in 17 Uighurs from Central Asia, who were being held at Guantanamo Bay, as a humanitarian gesture. Controversy followed, however, after it emerged the US had offered to pay Palau at least $90,000 (Dh330,000) for every Uighur who was resettled. Six of the former prisoners have so far been transferred. Do: Praise Palau's plans to create the world's first shark sanctuary, covering 600,000 square kilometres of ocean, after banning all commercial shark fishing. The nation has called for a worldwide ban on the practice. Don't: Say: "Have you seen Sammy the whale shark?" to any natives. The 13ft-long ocean creature has been kept captive in an aquarium at the Atlantis hotel in Dubai for more than a year, despite promises to release it back into the wild.

A landlocked Alpine delight The sixth smallest country in the world and the fourth tiniest in Europe, Liechtenstein is landlocked by Switzerland on one side and Austria on the other. Getting there could be a problem. For a start, it does not have an airport. Tourists have to fly in to Switzerland, then cross the border by car (or, for the very health-conscious, using any of its 90km of bicycle tracks). Measuring just 25km long and 6km wide, it is barely bigger than Manhattan, and is the only country to lie entirely in the Alps. It has numerous hiking and cycling trails and offers spectacular scenery, with dramatic cliffs and lush forests, quaint villages clinging to mountainsides and friendly locals. For a tiny country, it has somehow secured the ignominious glory of being the world's biggest producer of dentures and sausage casings, while other factories also produce ceramics. Other exports are stamps, machinery, wheat, barley, corn and potatoes. Like the UAE, it has a large number of expatriates. Two-thirds of the 35,000-strong population were born outside Liechtenstein and many were drawn by its status as a tax haven - about 75,000 companies have postal addresses in the country because of its favourable business rates. Up to 5,000 British investors have an estimated £3 billion (Dh18bn) stashed in secret accounts in the country, investments which could be hastily withdrawn after the British government recently signed a deal with Liechtenstein to access details of private funds. Prince Hans-Adam II has the power to veto parliamentary decisions and disband government. He won power in 2003 by threatening to move to Austria if he did not get his way. Do: Shout "hoi!" to locals - it's a friendly greeting rather than a rude interruption. Don't: Bang on about how much you love your SUV - Liechtensteiners are big on protecting the environment and even buses run on low-emission natural gas.

Land of voodoo and Bond Mention Haiti and one immediately conjures images of voodoo spells and rituals. The religion has come to be associated with Satanism, zombies and the dark art of sticking pins into dolls to cast voodoo spells on hapless victims. The James Bond film Live and Let Die depicted a devilish Soviet agent using voodoo to control a cult of possessed followers. While Haitians do pin crude dolls to trees near cemeteries, they say their purpose is to send messages to the realm of the dead rather than sorcery. With 80 per cent of Haitians living in poverty, training as a voodoo priest is a lucrative career option. The Creole and French-speaking Caribbean island is just emerging from a turbulent period that saw political turmoil, stark social deprivation, gang violence and kidnappings, and during which time many Haitians fled to exile in the US and Canada. Many foreign offices still warn of an unstable security situation and urge against travelling there, but for those brave enough, the country boasts lively carnivals, music and good food. Arab influences have led to spicy dishes while national staples include rice and beans, red snapper, fried plantain and deep-fried goat. Haiti was home to the only successful slave rebellion in colonial history and the revolution persuaded France to abolish slavery at the end of the 18th century. Do: Mention Wyclef Jean - the Haitian-born pop singer, formerly of The Fugees, is arguably the country's greatest ambassador. Don't: Do zombie impressions on the streets of the capital, Port-au-Prince.

tyaqoob@thenational.ae