ABU DHABI // Defence, trade and education are some of the areas in which Australia and the UAE will collaborate this year.
The Australian ambassador, Pablo Kang, said the UAE Air Force and Air Defence would take part in a three-week military exercise in Australia in August.
“It’s a multilateral training exercise that involves air, sea and land units from a number of countries,” Mr Kang said on the eve of Sunday’s Australia Day celebrations.
“We have a very active defence cooperation programme with the UAE. We have special forces training with the UAE and we have the programme this year where we’re expecting UAE fighter jets to participate for the first time.”
Pitch Black 2014 is the Royal Australian Air Force’s premier exercise, conducted in Darwin from August 1 to August 24.
Its focus will be the on large-force offensives, with air forces from the US, Singapore, Korea, Thailand, France, New Zealand and The Netherlands also taking part.
“We’re very keen to help build up the capacity of the UAE Armed Forces, bearing in mind that we have a very close strategic relationship with the UAE,” said Mr Kang.
“We’ve benefitted from our own forces being based in the UAE for a number of years and, given the closeness of the bilateral relationship and the fact that it is a volatile part of the world, it is important that our friends and allies get assistance and have good capacity.”
The Australian Defence Force has been stationed at Al Minhad Air Base in Dubai since 2003.
“That’s been an incredibly important facilitator for our combat role in Afghanistan,” Mr Kang said. “So we’ve been incredibly grateful to the UAE for allowing us to stage operations into and out of Afghanistan from there.”
He said Australia was now drawing down its combat forces in Afghanistan, which would also mean fewer personnel in Dubai.
“There won’t be as many people,” said Mr Kang. “At the height of the operations we had maybe 1,000 personnel in Dubai but that will come down a lot as the war draws down.”
Trade, investment and education will also be given a push with Australia Unlimited, organised for April in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
“We did a pilot in Dubai last year,” said Mr Kang. “It draws on dedicated thematic seminars like food security, sustainable water resources management and education.”
The event will include representatives of 20 Australian universities visiting and seminars organised with UAE universities and institutions, such as the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, the Ministry of Higher Education and the National Research Foundation.
“We’re keen to further promote the education relationship at all levels,” Mr Kang said. “We’re also keen to highlight niche Australian capabilities that are consistent with the UAE’s economic priorities. Water resources management is a key one.”
He said Australia had a lot of infrastructure requirements, due to its economic growth and population, which could not be funded solely through the government or private sector.
“It requires foreign investment, so we’re keen to reach out to promote Australia as an option for sovereign wealth funds,” Mr Kang said.
“One of the advantages of Australia is that it is a low-risk investment destination and it gives a reasonably high result, so it is safe and reliable.”
He said there were plans to establish more Australian schools in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
“We’re going to give trade and education a big push this year because it’s been a bit underdone,” Mr Kang said.
“There are currently two schools in Sharjah but we’re looking to expand into Dubai and Abu Dhabi.”