Chinese dragon spreads its wings across the country

More than 200,000 Chinese nationals now live in the Emirates while trade between the two nations thrives.

Pan Kang Jung, owner of the Golden Tower Restaurant in Abu Dhabi, along with his wife Pan Chin O Chu.
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ABU DHABI // Pan Kang Jung is one of the founding fathers of the capital's emerging China town. He moved to the UAE in 1977 and opened the city's first Chinese restaurant on Madinat Zayed Road, behind the Gold Souk, 14 years ago. Now the surrounding area is home to a cluster of Chinese-owned restaurants, convenience stores and internet cafes - where Abu Dhabi's 30,000-strong and growing Chinese community gathers to eat, stock up on snacks and supplies, and call home.

More than 200,000 Chinese nationals live in the Emirates, 85 per cent of whom are in Dubai, with new immigrants arriving regularly. "Ten years ago there were almost no Chinese-owned shops or restaurants in this city," said Pan, 62, who runs the Golden Tower restaurant and whose children were all born and raised in the UAE. "Now there are more Chinese businesses than I can count, many of which have opened up near here."

While the red lanterns that dot the streets behind Abu Dhabi's Gold Souk hint at the capital's burgeoning Chinese community, the heart of the Middle East's Chinese community is in Dubai's Dragon Mart - a 50,000 square metre dragon-shaped marketplace, with more than 3,000 shops. "The number of Chinese living in the UAE has doubled in the past three to four years," said China's political attaché to the UAE, Luo Ze Jun. "And we expect the numbers to double again by 2010."

Home to more than 2,000 Chinese-owned companies, it is not only small businesses that are setting up shop in the UAE but also construction and engineering firms, such as the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation and Zhong Ding International Engineering Corporation. "Abu Dhabi's real estate market is flourishing, which is proving to be very attractive to Chinese construction companies," said Hu Dan Dan, assistant manager for Zhong Ding International Engineering Co-operation, which set up offices in Abu Dhabi 18 months ago.

"We mainly employ Chinese labourers to work on our residential and commercial properties. At the moment we have around 40 based here in Abu Dhabi. But with more and more projects lined up that number is sure to rise in the future." Trade between China and the UAE jumped from US$3.9 billion (Dhs14.3bn) in 2003 to US$20.4bn in 2007. The UAE is China's largest trading partner in the Gulf region and the largest market for Chinese exports, which include textiles, industrial products, crafts and machinery.

The value of Chinese exports to the UAE increased by 50 per cent in 2007 to US$17bn with an increase of 7.7 per cent in the amount of UAE goods being exported to China to US$3bn. The annual number of Chinese visitors, including business travellers, to the UAE is 200,000 but is expected to increase significantly with the newly established Etihad Airways flights from Abu Dhabi to Beijing.