Why China's relationship with the UAE is brotherly

The centuries-old entente between the two nations is enduring, writes Chinese ambassador to the UAE Ni Jian

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, with Chinese President Xi Jinping last year. Mohamed Al Hammadi / Crown Prince Court - Abu Dhabi
Powered by automated translation

In a speech recently in Abu Dhabi, a formerly high-ranking official of a certain country suggested that China was not a "real brother" to the UAE, despite growing ties between the two countries. Such a statement runs counter to the truth and is highly irresponsible. China's relations with the UAE and Arab nations are as deep as the ocean and as firm as a rock. Our brotherhood has stood the test of time and is reinvigorated by the day.

This is rooted in history. One has only to look in a quiet corner of Dubai Museum, for example, where the remains of a broken porcelain dish lie. The Chinese celadon, unearthed from a Jumeirah archaeological site, dates back to the Song dynasty more than 1,000 years ago. Although it is now in pieces, it tells the story of ancient connections between the Chinese and Arabs that transcend geography and cultural differences. Our ancestors, trekking across vast deserts along the Silk Road and sailing along maritime spice routes, were pioneers of friendly exchanges between nations. Gan Ying from the Eastern Han dynasty 2,000 years ago, 14th century Moroccan explorer Ibn Battuta, and Zheng He during the Ming dynasty 600 years ago, were famous ambassadors of this Chinese-Arab entente. They promoted Chinese inventions such as papermaking, gunpowder, printing and the compass to the West and introduced Arabic astronomy, the calendar and medicine to China. These are very visible elements of our brotherly links.

In the 1980s, not long after the UAE was founded and medicine was not as advanced as it is today, China sent over multiple batches of medical teams. Their expertise saved lives, alleviated painful conditions and enhanced local people’s understanding of traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture. In 1991, a Chinese expert flew thousands of miles to help an injured member of the royal family with an ointment he created specially. That ointment is still sold in UAE pharmacies today, another tangible sign of our brotherhood.

In the Nazwa desert 50 kilometres southwest of Dubai, there is a green and luxuriant farmland where a variety of vegetables grow. In 2012, the Chinese farm owner set up irrigation systems, installed fences and built air-conditioned greenhouses. By applying China’s advanced water-saving agricultural techniques and intensive cultivation methods, he gradually turned a barren desert into a green farmland. His determination and perseverance has contributed to lessening the UAE’s dependence on imported vegetables and has enriched dining tables with fresh and affordable produce. The farmland is now also a supplier of Emirates airline, so that travellers around the world can enjoy a taste of vegetables from the desert. In May last year, a Chinese saltwater rice research and development team succeeded in growing rice in Dubai’s desert. The Chinese technology being used to improve the UAE’s food supplies means you can taste the fruits of this brotherly relationship.

Our Blue Helmets can be found in UN peacekeeping operations in Arab states such as Lebanon and Sudan. Many Chinese peacekeepers sacrificed their lives on missions to Iraq and Kuwait

Nor have the Chinese people forgotten that after a devastating earthquake hit Wenchuan in Sichuan province in 2008, it was our Arab brothers who gave the most generous assistance, including a $50 million donation from the UAE government. Nor will we forget that more than 40 years ago, it was our Arab and African friends who voted to restore China’s legitimate seat in the United Nations. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China always stands up for Arab states and developing countries, and firmly supports the just cause of Palestinian people and their legitimate right to statehood.

China also undertakes its international responsibilities as a big country. As the second-largest contributor to the UN’s peacekeeping budget, it is also a major contributor of troops and has sent a total of 39,000 peacekeepers. Our Blue Helmets can be found in UN peacekeeping operations in Arab states such as Lebanon and Sudan. Many Chinese peacekeepers sacrificed their lives on missions to Iraq and Kuwait. Over the past decade, China has sent a total of 31 fleets, 100 naval vessels and 26,000 officers and soldiers to the Gulf of Aden and waters off the coast of Somalia to carry out escort missions. It has successfully escorted 6,600 ships and rescued 70 ships in distress, ensuring the safety and security of important international shipping routes. In stark contrast, the country whose former official falsely accused China of not being a “real brother” has been busy creating tensions in the Middle East. Even worse, in defiance of the international community, it has waged wars on fabricated pretexts, dragged the region into protracted conflicts and brought untold suffering to the people of the region. Distance tests a horse's stamina; adversity reveals a true friend. Helping one another is a true sign of brotherhood.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the UAE. In that time, we have shared development philosophies and policy objectives and enjoyed growing co-operation. The two countries have become firm friends helping and complementing one another, and important partners that communicate and co-ordinate on regional and international affairs. Last year successive visits by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Vice President Wang Qishan elevated China-UAE relations to a new height. This year's visit to China by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, who attended the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Co-operation, continued the momentum of our high-level exchanges. I believe that following the blueprint mapped by our leaders, China-UAE brotherly relations will bring us closer than ever.

Chinese and Arabs, while distant geographically, are as close as family. Whatever obstacles confront us, brotherly relations between China and the UAE and Arab nations are enduring. Ill-intentioned finger-pointing and mud-slinging will not change that.

Ni Jian is China’s ambassador to the UAE