x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

UAE appoints new ambassador to China

UAE strengthening ties with Middle Kingdom through more trade and tourists - and a horse-themed development near Tianjin.

Major Gen Omar al Bitar will see to maintaining recently expanded economic co-operation.
Major Gen Omar al Bitar will see to maintaining recently expanded economic co-operation.

Beijing // After a career in which he reached the highest echelons of the military and academia, Major Gen Omar al Bitar has taken on one of the most important challenges in UAE diplomacy: representing the Emirates in the world's most populous nation.

Gen al Bitar is the UAE's new ambassador to China, and as such he is responsible for further deepening a relationship that has strengthened considerably in recent years. "China fascinates me in every sense," Gen al Bitar said. "Above all, the Chinese people are friendly, kind, generous and hard-working people with a high level of ethics. They have proven to the world what determination means." Gen al Bitar's employment history includes 35 years in the Armed Forces as a pilot, director and commander of the Khalifa Bin Zayed Air College in Al Ain. He also worked for a short time at the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research and for eight years was part of a think tank that studied regional security issues.

Most recently, Gen al Bitar was vice president of the Paris-Sorbonne University-Abu Dhabi, and he left the UAE shortly after the institution moved into its campus on Reem Island. Diplomatic ties between China and the UAE date back to 1984, but they have recently grown in significance on the back of growing economic links between the Middle Kingdom and the Arab world, a phenomenon sometimes referred to as the "new Silk Road".

There have been high-level visits on both sides, the most recent of which came in 2009 when Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, visited Beijing and signed agreements in areas such as oil and military co-operation. Although last year trade between the two countries dropped by US$7billion (Dh26bn) to $21bn, the number of Chinese tourists increased by more than 50 per cent, helped by new rules making it easier for them to visit the UAE.

In another oil-related development, Borouge, which is part-owned by Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, last month opened a plastics factory near Shanghai. Also, a $4bn "horse city" is being developed near the city of Tianjin in association with the Dubai-based Meydan Group. The UAE has also recently opened a dramatic pavilion at Expo 2010 in Shanghai. "The pavilion has demanded a lot of time and effort, and it is part of our government's strategy to tighten relations with China," Gen al Bitar said.

"It is a candidate to win, in my opinion, the prize for the best pavilion." Gen al Bitar described the country in which he now lives as "an ancient civilisation and a country rich with culture and heritage". "As the leaders of both countries have instilled mutual confidence, respect and trust in recent years, I hope this will enable us to secure a good level of strategic partnership with China in various fields," he said.

Key among those areas of partnership are education, scientific research and culture, as well as trade. While the Paris-Sorbonne, where Gen al Bitar was vice president, is a French-speaking institution, in China he is faced with the prospect of communicating in Mandarin, a language that has often proved a challenge to foreigners. Gen al Bitar only speaks a few words of the language at the moment, but plans to take lessons.

"Where there is a will there is a way, and to explore a culture of a country, I believe you have to command the language first," he said. @Email:dbardsley@thenational.ae