UAE looks east for global impact
With growing ties between the Emirates and Beijing, UAE Ambassador to China Ali Obaid Al Dhaheri says he wants a partner, not a competitor
As a momentous year draws to a close, The National is running a series of articles examining the impact of the growing diplomatic strength of the UAE.
In the next few days, we will examine the country’s growing international influence, be it through the soft power of culture and connectivity, or strengthening ties within the GCC and further around the globe.
This nation has never had a more prominent position in the world – and this series will explain how it was achieved, why it matters and what lies ahead.
The UAE and China will increase the frequency of meetings and talks on key issues, such as regional security, culture and trade in the coming year, according to the UAE’s top diplomat in Beijing.
This year has seen an important milestone in their relations with President Xi Jinping's historic visit to the Emirates in July.
“The two sides will intensify the exchange of high-level visits and enhance strategic communication regarding bilateral relations, regional and international issues of mutual concern following the state visit,” UAE Ambassador to China Ali Obaid Al Dhaheri told The National.
Mr Al Dhaheri said the visit by Mr Xi took bilateral ties between the two nations to a higher level.
This was further reinforced in October, when Khaldoon Al Mubarak, chief executive and managing director of Mubadala Investment Company, was appointed as the country’s first Presidential Special Envoy to China.
During the three-day visit by Mr Xi, a number of cultural and economic agreements were signed, including in the energy sector, to further bolster growing ties between them.
“The UAE shares China’s forward vision for economic globalisation as an approach that provides strong momentum for the world’s economic development, with both UAE and Emirati companies committed to achieving this aim,” Mr Al Dhaheri said.
In 2017, trade flows totalled US$53 billion (Dh194.68bn) between UAE and China, excluding oil and gas. The UAE is China’s top trade partner in the Middle East and North Africa, and volumes were forecast to rise to $58bn in 2018.
A comprehensive strategic partnership was also created in July and the two nations agreed to work more closely together both regionally and internationally.
“The Chinese president has stated that China and the UAE need to deepen co-operation in culture, education, tourism, youth, media and other areas, and promote dialogue and mutual learning between religions and civilisations,” Mr Al Dhaheri says.
Security will also become an increasingly important aspect of the relationship, with both acknowledging in a statement at the end of Mr Xi’s visit that the current international and regional situation “is experiencing changes and complicated, accelerating developments”.
Mr Al Dhaheri said that “consultations on political and security issues will aim to use dialogue to increase mutual understanding and trust between the two countries and provide joint ground to promote bilateral relations and maintain peace and development”.
There are a number of areas where the UAE and China might also find themselves in competition, such as trade and ports in East Africa.
Mr Al Dhaheri is positive about this part “of an international rules-based free trade system that will naturally see companies and countries engaging in healthy competition from time to time”.
However, he also said that China’s Belt and Road initiative on trade, in which the UAE is a partner, means that their aims are aligned across Africa.
Within China there are a number of political issues that are of relevance to this region, such as the treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority, many of whom the government is accused of detaining in internment camps. Beijing denies the claim. Closer links with a Muslim nation like the UAE brings this issue into sharper focus for the Gulf region.
Mr Al Dhaheri said that China’s historic ties with the Arab world, “dating back centuries, because of the Arabian Gulf’s strategic location”, will continue to foster respect and understanding.
“To this day, the city of Xi’an has a prominent Chinese-style mosque at its centre, which I visited twice this year, a timeless symbol of Chinese and Arabic trade and co-operation,” he said.
He expects both nations to give “consistent support… in issues related to national sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and security, taking into account the fundamental interests and major concerns and non-interference in the internal affairs of the other.”
Would this then mean that on regional matters in Asia, such as North Korea and Myanmar, which are important to Beijing's sphere of influence, that the UAE is likely to take more interest as part of its support of China?
Mr Al Dhaheri said that ties will continue to prioritise trade, culture, energy and education.
“From a global perspective, the UAE is primarily focused on issues around trade and development rather than geopolitical affairs. The UAE agreement hails the positive role played by China in international issues, which mirrors strong political ties,” he said.
The growing UAE-China relationship will still play out on the wider stage, for example within multilateral institutions such as the UN or World Trade Organisation.
Mr Al Dhaheri said that seeking closer ties also has “the aim of encouraging prioritising greater representation to all developing countries, including Arab countries. The deeper aim will be to find a comprehensive solution to all issues through full and transparent discussion and consensus-building.”
Updated: December 27, 2018 04:11 PM