China, UAE work together to build the Belt and Road

China Plus Published: 2018-07-19 21:46:31
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By Tian Wenlin

Note: The following is an edited translation of a commentary from the Chinese-language "Commentaries on International Affairs (国际锐评)."

On Thursday, China's President Xi Jinping started a state visit to the United Arab Emirates. This is his first overseas visit after he was re-elected president earlier this year. It is also the first time that China's head of state has visited the UAE in the past 30 years.

Abu Dhabi National Oil Company Headquarter lights up red to welcome the upcoming state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping. [Photo: China Plus]

Abu Dhabi National Oil Company Headquarter lights up red to welcome the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping. [Photo: China Plus]

Despite its relatively small size, the UAE is strategically placed, as it is close to the Persian Gulf. It has well-developed land and sea transportation routes. Dubai has a world-famous airport and commodity distribution center. The country has proven reserves of oil and natural gas that rank it sixth and fifth respectively in terms of global reserves. Last year, the UAE's per capita GDP exceeded 40,000 U.S. dollars. And according to the country's development plan, by the time of the arrival of the 50th anniversary of the country's founding in 2021, it will be one of the world's most well-developed countries.

In 2012, the UAE became the first Gulf Arab country to establish a strategic partnership with China. The two sides have worked to strengthen cooperation in various fields, and a number of cooperation projects have come to the fore thanks to the rapid advancement of China's Belt and Road Initiative. In 2017, the UAE awarded 12 percent of the franchise rights of the Abu Dhabi onshore oil block to Chinese companies – the first time that China gained a share from upstream cooperation in the Middle East. And in March of this year, the UAE granted a 10 percent franchise for each of the two oil fields in the Abu Dhabi offshore oil block to Chinese companies. Cooperation in the oil and gas sector has become a flagship of the deepening of cooperation between China and the Middle East.

That said, collaboration between China and the Arab state has also progressed significantly in the fields of infrastructure, telecommunications, finance, and culture. After President Xi Jinping first proposed the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, the UAE's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan praised the initiative. President Xi's visit to the United Arab Emirates will inevitably bring the two countries into closer cooperation across various fields.

From a broader perspective, the UAE can be at the center of China's growing cooperation with the Middle East. The Middle East is at the midpoint of the Belt and Road Initiative, which makes it a natural and important area for cooperation. As it stands, China is the largest trading partner for nine of the Arab countries. And the Arab countries are China's largest supplier of crude oil, its seventh largest trading partner, and an important port of call for engineering contracting and overseas investment.

From 1978 to 2011, the volume of goods traded between China and the Middle East increased by an average of 19.7 percent each year, significantly exceeding the average rate of growth of China's trade with other countries over the same period.

Cooperation in the energy market has been the most important touch point for both sides. Currently, 70 percent of China's imported energy comes from six member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The huge market and consumption power of the Middle East has also provided a valuable opportunity in terms of China's development: Between 2000 and 2012, China's exports of goods to the Gulf region increased by an average of 23 percent a year.

President Xi Jinping addresses the 8th ministerial meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum in Beijing on July 10, 2018. [Photo: Xinhua]

President Xi Jinping addresses the 8th ministerial meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum in Beijing on July 10, 2018. [Photo: Xinhua]

In 2014 at the sixth ministerial meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, President Xi Jinping proposed the "1+2+3" China-Arab cooperation agreement. The new agreement had energy cooperation at its core. The "two wings" of the agreement were infrastructure construction, and the facilitation of trade and investment. And it included three high-tech breakthrough areas: nuclear energy, space satellites, and new energy. And the participants at the recent ministerial meeting of the eighth China-Arab States Cooperation Forum signed important agreements that provide a clear, systematic, and complete blueprint for the development of China-Arab relations into the future.

For countries in the Middle East, the Belt and Road Initiative is a historic development opportunity that should not be missed. In the past, the economic prosperity and national strength of the Arab and Ottoman empires were largely due to their role as an intermediary on the Silk Road, connecting the East and the West through trade. The Arab states have regarded the Belt and Road Initiative as an opportunity to drive the rejuvenation of their countries and of their region. Both China and the Arab states have repeatedly expressed their recognition that their development goals are complementary, and that there are broad opportunities to develop the initiative together.

(Tian Wenlin is an associate research fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.)

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LU Xiankun Professor LU Xiankun is Managing Director of LEDECO Geneva and Associate Partner of IDEAS Centre Geneva. He is Emeritus Professor of China Institute for WTO Studies of the University of International Business and Economics (UIBE) and Wuhan University (WHU) of China and visiting professor or senior research fellow of some other universities and think tanks in China and Europe. He also sits in management of some international business associations and companies, including as Senior Vice President of Shenzhen UEB Technology LTD., a leading e-commerce company of China. Previously, Mr. LU was senior official of Chinese Ministry of Commerce and senior diplomat posted in Europe, including in Geneva as Counsellor and Head of Division of the Permanent Mission of China to the WTO and in Brussels as Commercial Secretary of the Permanent Mission of China to the EU. Benjamin Cavender Benjamin Cavender is a Shanghai based consultant with more than 11 years of experience helping companies understand consumer behavior and develop go to market strategies for China. He is a frequent speaker on economic and consumer trends in China and is often featured on CNBC, Bloomberg, and Channel News Asia. Sara Hsu Sara Hsu is an associate professor from the State University of New York at New Paltz. She is a regular commentator on Chinese economy. Xu Qinduo Xu Qinduo is CRI's former chief correspondent to Washington DC, the United States. He works as the producer, host and commentator for TODAY, a flagship talk show on current affairs. Mr. Xu contributes regularly to English-language newspapers including Shenzhen Daily and Global Times as well as Chinese-language radio and TV services. Lin Shaowen A radio person, Mr. Lin Shaowen is strongly interested in international relations and Chinese politics. As China is quite often misunderstood in the rest of the world, he feels the need to better present the true picture of the country, the policies and meanings. So he talks a lot and is often seen debating. Then friends find a critical Lin Shaowen criticizing and criticized. George N. Tzogopoulos Dr George N. Tzogopoulos is an expert in media and politics/international relations as well as Chinese affairs. He is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre International de Européenne (CIFE) and Visiting Lecturer at the European Institute affiliated with it and is teaching international relations at the Department of Law of the Democritus University of Thrace. George is the author of two books: US Foreign Policy in the European Media: Framing the Rise and Fall of Neoconservatism (IB TAURIS) and The Greek Crisis in the Media: Stereotyping in the International Press (Ashgate) as well as the founder of chinaandgreece.com, an institutional partner of CRI Greek. David Morris David Morris is the Pacific Islands Trade and Investment Commissioner in China, a former Australian diplomat and senior political adviser. Harvey Dzodin After a distinguished career in the US government and American media Dr. Harvey Dzodin is now a Beijing-based freelance columnist for several media outlets. While living in Beijing, he has published over 200 columns with an emphasis on arts, culture and the Belt & Road initiative. He is also a sought-after speaker and advisor in China and abroad. He currently serves as Nonresident Research Fellow of the think tank Center for China and Globalization and Senior Advisor of Tsinghua University National Image Research Center specializing in city branding. Dr. Dzodin was a political appointee of President Jimmy Carter and served as lawyer to a presidential commission. Upon the nomination of the White House and the US State Department he served at the United Nations Office in Vienna, Austria. He was Director and Vice President of the ABC Television in New York for more than two decades.