x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Middle Kingdom visits Middle East as Chinese navy docks at Port Zayed

Chinese navy's first visit to region and warships' arrival a sign of growing military and economic ties between UAE and Beijing.

ABU DHABI // Two Chinese warships docked in Port Zayed yesterday, the first time a naval contingent from the country has berthed in the Middle East. The FFG-525 Ma'anshan, a 135-metre frigate, and the supply vessel Qiandaohu arrived from a six-month mission in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea where they were part of the international force protecting commercial ships and oil tankers from Somali pirates.

"We came for peace and friendship, for mutual understanding and for expanding mutual exchange," said Senior Captain Quu Yanpeng, the deputy chief of staff of China's East Sea Fleet. "Our friendly co-operation is not only in the interest of our people but also conducive to the global peace and stability. The friendly exchange between our navies is an important component of our bilateral relations."

He was speaking during a brief ceremony at the port that was attended by Sheikh Saeed bin Hamdan Al Maktoum, the deputy chief of Naval Operations. The visit is viewed as a reflection of China's growing ability to protect its interest beyond its borders. Beijing has dispatched five groups of ships since early last year to protect its vessels in the Gulf of Aden, a move that was largely anticipated alongside China's sustained economic growth and energy demands.

The visiting ships, which will leave for home on Sunday, have escorted more than 600 Chinese and foreign vessels, according to Xinhua, China's state news agency. "The ships have succeeded in repelling attacks against many ships. They've contributed to protecting Chinese and non-Chinese ships," said the Chinese ambassador, Gao Yusheng. "The Gulf is an area that has enjoyed close ties with China. Maintaining security in the Gulf is vital to the area and the world, including China."

Mr Gao said his country's navy had chosen the UAE as the first country in the region to visit "because of the strength of political ties between our two countries, and the development that has been witnessed by the Emirates in recent years". During a visit to Beijing last summer by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, the countries signed several agreements, including two on military ties and one relating to the oil industry.

"Now we're negotiating," said Mr Gao said. "This year, we will sign an agreement to import oil" from the UAE, he added. According to the United States' Energy Information Administration, China will import nearly six million barrels of oil per day from the Middle East by 2030. In 2008, the figure was 1.8m barrels, making the region the largest supplier of crude oil to China. Most is supplied by Saudi Arabia, with the rest from Kuwait and Oman.

China is also expanding in other sectors, mainly construction. In the past two years, Chinese companies have won 18 major projects in the UAE, worth Dh4.8 billion (US$1.3bn). mhabboush@thenational.ae

Launched September 2005 Commissioned February 2006 Length 135 metres Weight 3,000 tonnes Top speed 28 knots Endurance 4,000 nautical miles Weapon systems Surface-to-surface missiles, surface-to-air missiles, artillery, air defence artillery, anti-submarine missiles and decoy launcher