It has been over four years since I took office as the Chinese Ambassador to the UAE. When I first arrived in this country, I was amazed by the towering skyscrapers, dazzling shopping malls, dancing musical fountains and dashing rollercoasters. I knew the UAE is never short of such wonders, but it was not until one day that I had an epiphany.
After attending a majlis hosted by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, on the “Year of Zayed”, I headed to Dubai on a business trip. My car was sweeping along the straight desert highway, when I suddenly saw the city’s skyline, casting a mirage-like silhouette against the twilight horizon. For an instant, a story told at the majlis emerged right in front of my eyes: the Founding Father of the country, Sheikh Zayed, took a wooden stick, drawing the blueprints for the UAE in the sand, stroke by stroke. At that moment, it was as if I had a dialogue with Sheikh Zayed that transcended time and space, allowing me to connect with the spiritual core of this young nation.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. But it only took the UAE 50 years to transform desert fishing villages and Bedouin tribal settlements into a modern country that has come to be known as the “Pearl of the Middle East”. Over 50 years, the UAE’s GDP has grown 230 times from Dh6.5 billion to Dh1.5 trillion. It is now among the top 30 in the world. Per capita GDP, adjusted for purchasing power, it has increased from less than $1,500 to nearly $70,000 (Dh5,500-Dh257,000).
Some say the UAE is as it is because it is "oil rich". I beg to differ. Many countries in the world are rich in oil and gas resources. Many of them are mired in wars, conflicts and social instability. Only a handful develop well. And the UAE is undoubtedly the most successful. The young country seized the opportunity, made good use of the "first pot of gold" from oil, capitalised on its business acumen and pioneering entrepreneurship and took a gorgeous turn for the post-oil era.
Conveniently located by the Strait of Hormuz and with easy access to the vast markets of Asia, Africa and Europe, the UAE has been actively developing ports, free zones and transit trade. Jebel Ali has been ranked as world’s top 10 busiest ports for many consecutive years. Khalifa Port has also ascended to world’s top 100 in recent years. The UAE is the shipping and trading hub of the Middle East.
The UAE’s geocentric location places it within a four-hour flight of one-third of the world’s population and within eight hours of two-thirds. Aviation industry has thus been a priority on the country’s development agenda. Emirates and Etihad have earned a global reputation. Dubai International Airport is the world’s busiest for international travel, while Abu Dhabi Airport is also rising rapidly.
Dubai International Financial Centre and Abu Dhabi Global Market came into being to fill in the trading void between London and Hong Kong, with the UAE’s time zone situated perfectly between them. With a full-fledged legal system and preferential tax policies in place, the UAE is now the financial centre of the Middle East.
The UAE is also keen on improving its infrastructure and business environment. The UAE ranks 16th globally in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report 2020, leading the Arab world for seven years. Fortune 500 companies all have a presence here. The UAE is a prime location for multinationals to set up their regional headquarters.
Fifty years down the road, the UAE today is again firmly grasping opportunities for future development. A diversified innovation and knowledge-based economy is burgeoning, with sectors such as tourism, retail, property, manufacturing, health care, internet and high-tech flourishing simultaneously. The share of oil revenues in the UAE’s GDP is now below 30 per cent. Just as Sheikh Mohamed once said: “Fifty years after we have loaded this last barrel of oil, are we going to feel sad? If our investment today is right, we will celebrate that moment.”
As the Chinese Ambassador, I am particularly thrilled and amazed about the UAE's remarkable achievements over the last half-century. China and the UAE share similar development paths, philosophies and objectives. We have been good friends, brothers and partners who complement each other's strengths through co-operation. China continues to be the UAE's largest trading partner, while the UAE has been China's second-largest trading partner and the largest export market in Mena for many consecutive years. In jointly building the Belt and Road Initiative, China and the UAE are smoothly advancing flagship projects such as Khalifa Port and China-UAE Industrial Capacity Co-operation Demonstration Zone. Despite the serious impact of Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, China-UAE bilateral trade volume increased by 1.13 per cent to $49.3bn, which demonstrates the strong resilience and great potential of our economic and trade co-operation. China and the UAE are an integral part of each other's development blueprints. Our future co-operation has bright prospects and a lot to be accomplished.
On March 16, President Sheikh Khalifa declared the start of "Year of the 50th", as the nation celebrates its milestone Golden Jubilee. I looked up to Sheikh Zayed's photo projected on the Adnoc Headquarters facade that night, and could not help saying: "What a great country, just as you wished for."
Ni Jian is the Chinese Ambassador to the UAE