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The UAE can assume a strategic role in China’s ambitions

It can be an alliance built on shared interests and reset global trade flows

Gulf News

The UAE-China relations are recording rapid developments across all areas of contact. Going forward, this would contribute to remapping strategic and economic relations between the UAE and the other Gulf countries on one side and emerging powers on the other due to the many similar approaches and mutual interests.

During the China-Arab Cooperation Forum (CACF), held in Beijing last week, the UAE played a leading role in the development of relations between China and Arab countries, particularly after the official visit of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, to China. The two sides had signed several cooperation agreements that resulted in significant progress in many areas.

Trade between the two countries has achieved significant leaps, increasing last year by 15.1 per cent to Dh195.8 billion compared to Dh169 billion in 2016. This is according to data released by the UAE Ministry of Economy and constitutes 14.7 per cent of the UAE’s total foreign trade in 2017.

In addition, the UAE’s trade with China accounts for 27 per cent of China’s total trade with Arab countries, which amounted to $200 billion last year. Interestingly, this places the UAE at the top of the list of Arab countries in terms of ties with China, adding to that the fact that a significant proportion of China’s trade with the Arab world passes through the UAE’s ports as re-exports.

At the same time, mutual investments between the UAE and China has never been higher and has increased to cover new sectors. Besides wholesale and retail trade, Chinese investments in real estate, construction, transportation, warehousing, financial services, telecom, tech and manufacturing industries have been stimulated, especially after the cancellation of the pre-entry requirements to visit the country.

Belt and Road project

The UAE has become now one of the most important destinations for Chinese tourists, whose numbers exceed 120 million annually.

The latest developments in UAE-China cooperation include China’s quest to enhance the UAE’s participation in the “Belt and Road” project, which will change the nature of global trade relationships. The initial cost of the project’s first phase is $200 billion (Dh734 billion).

The UAE, thanks to its advanced infrastructure especially when it comes to trade, can be a major component of the project, which is now being implemented in the region with the opening of the first phase of a free-trade zone in Djibouti last week, built at a cost of $3.5 billion.

Thanks to its strategic location, the UAE can provide many facilities for the Chinese venture, which will link the East to the West, thus taking trade and international cooperation to new heights with the participation of developing countries. They will now be a key player in global trade alongside the developed ones.

It is a fact that there are many expected aspects of cooperation to be developed in the coming years. In addition to supplying China with an important part of its energy needs, the UAE can contribute to China’s aim to establish the largest petrochemical complex at a cost of $120 billion. This is modelled after the UAE’s participation in India’s large petrochemicals project alongside Saudi Aramco, at a total cost of $40 billion, which was announced recently.

The UAE can also benefit from the China-Arab Centre for Technology Transfer and China’s expertise in artificial intelligence. The UAE and China have visions and development experiences that complement one another, which presents to the world a strategic cooperation that is balanced when it comes to shared interests.

Dr Mohammad Al Asoomi is a UAE economic expert and specialist in economic and social development in the UAE and the GCC countries.

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