The visit of China's president, Xi Jinping, will encourage cultural bonds as well as strengthen political and economic ties, the UAE’s Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development has said.
Noura Al Kaabi launched UAE-China Week — dedicated to boosting ties between the two countries — in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday alongside the Chinese ambassador to the UAE, Ni Jian.
Culture is at the heart of UAE-China Week and a special pavilion at Manarat Al Saadiyat is the centrepiece of this. Visitors can learn more about China through art, board games, music and even cinema screenings, while those who want to know more about the UAE can find out about pearl-diving, calligraphy, henna and embroidery.
Ms Al Kaabi and Mr Ni toured the pavilion on Tuesday to launch the event.
"It's a really important time for us to look at this relationship as not just economic or political ties but what will bond it together and that's the cultural element," Ms Al Kaabi told The National.
“This week is a week that will happen every year and … I’m truly proud to have students from Hamdan bin Zayed School speaking fluently in Mandarin. There will be more cultural agreements and partnerships happening with China,” she said.
One of these pupils was Saif Al Dhaheri, 15, who speaks Mandarin and spoke to the ambassador on Tuesday. Saif has been studying Chinese since 2006 as part of a pilot project at the school.
“It’s difficult but it helps me,” he said. “If we know the language now, it will be easier to build links with them and it’s better if we are friends with the country. It was also easier when I went to China with the school and we went to local markets.”
A painting of Abu Dhabi’s oldest building Qasr Al Hosn, alongside one of the entrances to Tiananmen Square, is one of the most striking pieces on display at the pavilion. The piece by Chinese artist Jack Lee features calligraphy from renowned UAE artist Mohammed Mandi, who was working on the piece during the launch. Mr Mandi’s work can be seen in the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, on the UAE currency and passports. The artwork pays tribute to the close links between China and the UAE and Ms Al Kaabi and Mr Ni stopped for several minutes there.
Mr Lee has been based in the UAE for about 13 years and teaches fine art at universities.
“I feel very happy and excited,” he said about Mr Xi’s visit. “And now I have the chance to work with Mohammed Mandi to create this piece about the relationship between the UAE and China.
“I like it here and I don’t feel like a foreigner. If you work hard everyone has a chance.”
Elsewhere in the pavilion, Chinese classical musician Bai Juan was the focus of a lot of attention. Ms Bai, 24, has been playing the guzheng, a plucked strong instrument, for 17 years and the ancient Chinese sounds echoed throughout Manarat Al Saadiyat during the day.
Visitors also learned about Chinese art, ceramics and also got a taste of UAE traditions. A majlis, a miniature dhow, embroidery and coffee making area with dallahs were also popular.
Along the entrance were pictures showing Sheikh Zayed, the late President, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, on their visits to China.
UAE-China Week comes as the UAE prepares to welcome Mr Xi on Thursday for one of the largest state visits the UAE has ever seen.
It’s not clear if the Chinese president will be holding any public events but he is expected to visit Louvre Abu Dhabi along with other engagements.
“This visit will be a visit of friendship, co-operation and will chart a future of China-UAE relations and it is really a historical and important one,” said Mr Ni.
Formal ties between the UAE and China were established in 1984 and Sheikh Zayed visited China in 1990. Today, about 200,000 Chinese expatriates call the UAE home. Chinese visitors to the UAE are eligible for visa on arrival while on Saturday it was announced that Chinese TV dramas will be dubbed into Arabic and broadcast to the Middle East.