The UAE leadership bestowed the Order of Zayed on China's President Xi Jinping on Friday during high-level meetings at the Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi at which major strategic partnerships were signed.
Energy and financial deals between the two countries were signed during a day of ceremony, as the strengthening friendship between the UAE and China was celebrated.
The state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company signed a wide-ranging agreement with China National Petroleum Company to explore partnership opportunities in the emirate as Adnoc's plan to expand its refining and petrochemical operations attracts global investors.
Mr Xi received the UAE's highest civil decoration after being welcomed at the palace by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, at about 11:30am.
The honour, named after the UAE's Founding Father, is rarely bestowed and reserved for the country's most esteemed partners among heads of state around the world. Recipients include Saudi Arabia's King Salman, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and King Mohammed VI of Morocco.
He was also presented with a prized pureblood Arabian rabdan horse.
Earlier, the national anthem of both countries was played and Mr Xi reviewed a Guard of Honour in the presence of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed. A 21-gun salute was fired in honour of the guest and an air display was performed.
The bilateral meeting lasted about an hour and saw both parties discuss strengthening strategic relations as well as discussing regional and international issues of mutual interest.
Major agreements were made in energy, finance, agriculture and e-commerce. The Wam news agency reported that 13 agreements and memorandums of understanding (MOU) were signed in the presence of the leaders.
Among these, the Chinese state-owned Industrial Capacity Co-Operation Financial Group will set up in Abu Dhabi's financial hub to offer lending facilities to Chinese companies operating in the emirate's industrial zone.
An MOU concerning co-operation on the Silk Road Initiative and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative was also signed.
China is seeking more business in the UAE and the UAE government expects non-oil trade with China to top $58 billion this year.
Wam reported that during the meeting Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid said that the talks reflected the emphasis the two countries are placing on developing strategic partnerships. UAE-China ties have a strong foundation to begin a new phase of co-operation across multiple sectors that reflect and support the aspirations of the peoples of the two friendly nations, Sheikh Mohammed added.
UAE-China talks are an important milestone for historical ties that join China and the UAE, which were founded by the late Sheikh Zayed, noting that he accompanied the late ruler on the first state visit to China 28 years ago.
"This visit represented a strong starting point for the great development of ties witnessed by the two countries over the years, reaching the highest level of political and economic co-ordination, co-operation and knowledge exchange," he said.
"President Xi's belief in the effective role of soft power to stimulate positive synergy across various sectors, his valuing innovation as an essential element in development, as well as the vested interest in technology and its impact on shaping the future, are in line with the values that form the basis of the UAE's development plans."
The schedule of the state visit is crammed with political, cultural and trade engagements and it continues until Mr Xi's departure on Saturday.
Mr Xi has been given a state welcome afforded to only the most crucial of allies. He is on his first state visit to the UAE.
Along the main roads of the capital on Friday morning flew UAE and Chinese flag, UAE landmarks have lit up with China’s colours while all week the UAE has been celebrating its partnership with China with a particular focus on culture. UAE-China Week was launched on Tuesday and showcases the culture of both countries.
On Friday, Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak, Mother of the Nation, received Mr Xi's wife Peng Liyuan and hosted a banquet in her honour. Wam reported that Sheikha Fatima said that Sheikh Zayed supported women and was always keen to establish love and communication between people.
Mrs Peng praised the UAE’s efforts to empower women. "Sheikha Fatima is a pioneer of women's empowerment and supports Emirati women to achieve their ambitions," she said.
"She also supports women in many other countries and provides them with humanitarian support, by establishing hospitals and medical clinics that provide free treatment for women and children, who are victims of natural disasters and wars."
Earlier Mrs Peng toured Louvre Abu Dhabi with Noura Al Kaabi, Minister for Culture and Knowledge Development.
A UAE-China Economic Forum took place on Friday night, while President Xi's wife was due to attend a concert.
Mr Xi touched down in Abu Dhabi on Thursday evening and was received by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed at the Presidential Airport.
Fireworks and visuals beamed from Abu Dhabi's Adnoc Headquarters capped off a rousing welcome for the Chinese delegation.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed said on Thursday that the visit will help usher in a "new phase of co-operation" between the two nations.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid said that there is a "mutual understanding" between the UAE and China on a number of regional and international issues. Earlier Sheikh Mohammed had tweeted in Chinese welcoming the arrival of the president.
Mr Xi said he was "exteremely happy" to visit the UAE and said the country is a role model for development and prosperity in the Arab World.
"The UAE has also been playing a positive role in safeguarding and maintaining peace and stability in the region since we established our diplomatic relations 34 years ago," Mr Xi said.
The Chinese president said UAE-Chinese ties have been witnessing "significant progress".
''China pays special attention to efforts aimed at developing the Emirati-Chinese strategic partnership. China is also keen to work with the UAE to expand and deepen the joint cooperation to serve mutual interests in all walks of life within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, BRI, so as to elevate bilateral ties," Mr Xi said on Thursday.
"I am looking forward to meeting His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and other UAE leaders to exchange in-depth views on the best ways to boost bilateral ties.
"I am confident that this visit will achieve resounding success in terms of solidifying people-to-people friendship, driven by joint efforts of Emirati-Chinese leaders."
Formal ties were established between both countries in 1984. This was followed in 1990 with a landmark state visit by Sheikh Zayed, the late President, which opened up a new era of cooperation.
Today, close to 200,000 Chinese expatriates call the UAE home. And Co-operation extends across energy, logistics and finance and now Mr Xi's "belt and road" initiative, aimed at increasing trade between Eurasian countries.
Tourism is also central. Chinese tourists enjoy visa on arrival and last year about a million visited the country. UAE carriers Etihad and Emirates provide crucial air links between East and West.
Emaar Properties also announced plans during the week to build the Middle East's biggest "Chinatown" shopping complex in Dubai as well as expand its Address hotel brand across China.
Mr Xi leaves the UAE on Saturday and travels on to Senegal, Rwanda and South Africa, Chinese state media Xinhua reported. Mr Xi is expected to attend a summit with Brazil, Russia and India in Johannesburg from July 25 to 27.
The Presidential Palace that played host to Mr Xi on Friday is one of the most prestigious buildings in the UAE. Located in Ras Al Akhdar close to the Emirates Palace hotel, it houses the administrative offices of the President, Sheikh Khalifa, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed.
The visit by Mr Xi is the first by a Chinese head of state in 29 years.
A number of major UAE entities have embraced and commemorated the visit. Among them are Abu Dhabi Police, who announced on Thursday the issuing of the first driving licence including Mandarin text to mark the state visit.
Etisalat and Du changed the network name displayed on their customers' mobile phones to "WelcomePresChina", while on Friday the Abu Dhabi Distribution Company said it would provide bills for Chinese customers in their own language.
Highlights of the 13 agreements and memorandums:
- Two memorandums of understanding on the construction of embassies and other buildings, as well as the establishment of cultural centres.
- An MoU to advance energy co-operation between the UAE Ministry of Energy and Industry, and China's National Energy Commission.
- Two MoUs to enhance e-commerce ties as well as greater cooperation at the China International Import Expo.
- Two MoUs for co-operation between the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of China, to enhance co-operation in the agriculture sector, and the building of a wholesale market for agricultural products, livestock and fisheries signed
- Two MoUs between the UAE and China concerning co-operation on the Silk Road Initiative and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative.
- A strategic co-operation agreement between Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and China National Petroleum Company.
- An agreement on mutual co-operation and administrative assistance in the customs issues.
- A framework agreement for cooperation between the Abu Dhabi Global Market and the Chinese-UAE Pilot Zone to create a platform for financial services and innovation on industrial capacity cooperation within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative.
- A partnership and investment agreement in the world's largest solar energy project.