With the visit this week to China of Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, relations between the two nations are reaching new heights. It is 28 years since Founding Father Sheikh Zayed became the first GCC leader to visit Beijing in an official capacity, establishing a relationship that has yielded unprecedented trade and investment ever since. However, the bonds of trust and fraternity long predate Sheikh Zayed's landmark visit. Some 2,000 years ago, merchants voyaged between China and the Arab world, along the ancient Silk Road, carrying their exotic goods and imparting knowledge. The affection and warmth that emerged back then – as well as the commerce that drove it – still underpins the UAE-China relationship today. As Sheikh Mohamed visits China this week, we will see before us a political, economic, technological and cultural relationship that has stood the test of time.
Commerce is so extensive between the two nations that China is now among the UAE’s top trading partners, while Beijing sees the UAE as an invaluable energy partner. When it comes to economic co-operation, the numbers speak for themselves. Bilateral trade increased by 16.2 per cent to $11.2 billion in the first quarter of this year, compared with the same period in 2018. There are more than 150 commercial flights every week between the UAE and China, while more than a million Chinese tourists visited the UAE in 2018, partly thanks to new visa rules. The UAE proudly hosts the largest Chinese community in the Middle East, with more than 200,000 Chinese people living and working here – most in Dubai. Meanwhile, the UAE’s strategic location makes it integral to President Xi Jinping’s landmark Belt and Road Initiative, which is seeking to revive the ancient Silk Road and forge partnerships between the countries along its path. In integrating disparate nations into a colossal, mutually beneficial marketplace, the Belt and Road Initiative chimes perfectly with the UAE’s global vision.
While the bilateral relationship between the UAE and China might be founded on commerce, there is far more to it. Cultural and technological co-operation is just as important. In 2017, the UAE introduced Mandarin language lessons in government schools, in order to foster future understanding with their Chinese counterparts. This year, we celebrate the 35th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and the UAE, knowing that the bilateral relationship has never been better. Sheikh Mohamed’s visit will only bolster that relationship, and further build on more than 2,000 years of cross-cultural exchange.