UAE-China economic ties 'to expand beyond oil industry'

Ties between the UAE and China are set to strengthen as the countries expand links in areas other than the oil industry, senior officials have said.

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BEIJING // Ties between the UAE and China are set to strengthen as the countries expand links in areas other than the oil industry, senior officials have said.

Economic co-operation in fields such as energy and telecommunications will deepen political links that have existed for more than a quarter of a century, a China-UAE forum in Beijing heard yesterday.

The comments came as the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, met his Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi, at the start of a two-day visit to China.

In a speech to the China-UAE Economic Forum yesterday, Li Jinjun, a vice minister in the international department of the communist party's central committee, said the two countries enjoyed "a long-term friendship".

Diplomatic ties date back to 1984, and the UAE opened an embassy in Beijing in 1987. The UAE also has consulates in Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Mr Li promised China would continue to pursue a foreign policy of "no intervention in internal affairs", even as its trade and other ties overseas grew.

China "very much appreciates" the support given by the UAE when an earthquake struck Sichuan province in 2008, according to Mr Li. The Emirates gave US$50 million (Dh184m) to finance reconstruction after the disaster, which killed more than 68,000 people.

Mr Li said China was keen to see "more co-operation in sectors other than the oil sector".

The UAE-China relationship differs from some other Gulf-China bilateral ties in that it already has significant ties not linked to energy. The UAE is China's largest export market in the Gulf, with Dh49bn worth of Chinese goods arriving last year.

Chinese firms are also active in construction, securing $4.8bn worth of contracts in the UAE in the past two years. Etisalat mobile phones have been manufactured in China, while high-speed communications networks in the Emirates have been installed by companies from China.

There are more than 1,000 Chinese firms operating in the UAE, and Mr Li said Beijing wanted this number to grow.

"We will be very supportive in terms of regulations and other facilities to promote the Chinese enterprises and industries in establishing branch companies overseas, including in the UAE," he said.

Yesterday's forum was the latest in a series of UAE-China events.

In May, an Abu Dhabi and China Economic Forum was held in Shanghai, not long after the opening of the Shanghai Expo, where the UAE pavilion has been a major attraction.

Also this year, the Court of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, is paying for the $2.8m refurbishment of an Arabic teaching centre at a Beijing university. The centre, which was funded by and named after the UAE when it first opened, is being renamed The Sheikh Zayed Centre for Islamic and Arabic Studies.

China has taken an interest in the UAE's dispute with Iran over Upper and Lesser Tunbs. Last month, Chinese parliamentary leaders asked the UAE to present its case during a planned visit to China by members of the Federal National Council next year.

Ties are aided by "very similar ways of thinking" between the two nations, according to Khalid al Ghaith, an assistant minister in the UAE Department of Economic Affairs.

Delivering a keynote speech, Mr al Ghaith said he was keen to see not just UAE investment in China, or Chinese investment in the UAE, but also the countries joining to develop projects in third countries.

But he added China itself afforded vast opportunities in sectors such as energy, tourism, telecommunications and finance.

"We also want to enhance co-operation with China in the education and training sectors, and the first Chinese school in Abu Dhabi opened this year," he said.

Mr al Ghaith praised China's "brilliant leadership" and the country's continued economic growth during the global economic crisis.

The UAE and China can date ties to the silk road, said Chen Jingxian, vice president of the China Economic Co-operation Centre.

"I do not see any reason why the relationship between the two countries will not develop further," he said.

Among the UAE enterprises attending yesterday's meeting were Mubadala, Union Railway, DP World and the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority. They were joined by Chinese construction, energy, media and aerospace companies.

A recent report by the Washington-based think-tank the Jamestown Foundation predicted China-GCC ties in energy and trade would "continue to flourish", especially as China's oil demand grows. However, analysts said China was unlikely to develop a significant military presence in the Gulf region.