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07.09.2019 Author: Viktor Mikhin

UAE Turns its Gaze to the East


Saudi Arabia, as per an old Arab saying, has been and still remains the elder sister for the rest of the Arab states on the Arabian Peninsula. This statement is backed by several facts: the kingdom is the largest in terms of territory, it has the largest population and until recently it was the richest country. However, as they say, it only lasts as long. Because of the incompetent and not quite professional policy of the Saudi leadership, where the lead part is still played by the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, the kingdom suffered a number of military failures in Syria and Yemen, completely spoiled relations with the neighboring Iran, imposed unexplained sanctions on Qatar and set the entire world community against itself with the brutal murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Therefore it is not surprising that, given these conditions, the United Arab Emirates and its leadership, which pursues a well-balanced and reasonable policy in the interests not only of the residents of the emirates, but also of other Arabs of the region, began to advance in the Arabian arena steadily. Suffice it to say that, over the past 50 years, the sheikhs, the rulers of their small emirates, have turned a country where hospitals and schools were few and far between, where camels were the main transport across the desert and where the population lived mostly in Bedouin tents, into a wealthy and prosperous country that could serve as an example for many jealous countries around the world.

Two ruler dynasties, one might say, play the main part in defining the sparkling facade of the country with its wealth and contentment. These are the Al Nahyan, the rulers of the Abu Dhabi Emirate, and the Al Maktoum, the rulers of the Dubai Emirate. While the latter are focused on the internal affairs, the former formulate the foreign policy, skillfully and masterfully managed by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and the Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.

If one analyses the UAE foreign policy, which has always been cautious and discreet, one may see that there has recently been a tendency of a moderate departure from the unconditional support of Washington and its policy of relying solely on military force and conflict. In Abu Dhabi, many people dislike the unbridled trend of the US President Donald Trump for a sharp increase in the turmoil against Iran, a close neighbor of the UAE.

In addition, the emirates are home to many Shiite Arabs, and Dubai has always been historically close to Iran. And, besides, there are territorial disputes between the two states, which they were ready to solve peacefully at the negotiating table. In particular, this is about the islands of Abu Musa, the Greater and Lesser Tunbs, currently owned by Iran and playing a very important role in the navigation of tankers leaving the Persian Gulf. However, no one knows how to solve this problem now that Washington encourages the unhealthy situation in this region every day, and the issue is once again put off indefinitely.

Realizing that Trump’s selfish policy only harms the interests of the UAE and its neighbors, the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince decided to consolidate the relations with the East and went to visit China and Indonesia, with the positive results exceeding all expectations. “True friendship is always based on mutual respect, sharing common interests and a desire to work together,” the UAE press wrote about these visits, and the same is true when it comes to international relations between states. “Over the past 35 years, since diplomatic relations were established between the UAE and China, a true and warm friendship has been firmly established between our two countries. The bond is based on mutual respect, non-interference in internal affairs, common interests, the desire to work for the development and well-being of both peoples,” said Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan during his three-day state visit to China. “Without these elements, genuine cooperation, peace, stability and development cannot be achieved,” he added

Of course, when it comes to the relations between the UAE and China, these cornerstones are firmly anchored, allowing both countries to modernize their current strategic partnership, which has been brought to a high level of close and comprehensive cooperation since 2012. This is the natural culmination of working together in many areas, supporting common goals and recognizing that prosperity and strategic economic ties are the basis for building peace, security and stability in the two countries’ regions.

The proximity of the relationship and the policy of comprehensive strategic partnership have led to a sharp increase in trade, which should exceed $70 billion by the end of the year. The UAE is now home to the largest Chinese community in the Middle East. More than 1.1 million tourists from China visited the Emirates last year to take advantage of the mutual simplified visa issuance procedure with 150 direct flights between the two countries. Conversely, UAE businessmen and entrepreneurs are eager to invest in the Chinese economy and visit the Celestial Empire in order to explore opportunities for further cooperation and development of efficient partnership.

During his talks with the Chinese President Xi Jinping, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan said that genuine cooperation, peace, stability and development cannot be achieved unless they are based on a broad and solid economic foundation. That is why 16 memoranda of understanding were signed, ranging from the Agreement on Defense and Military Cooperation to the Memorandum of Understanding on Scientific and Technical Cooperation with an emphasis on artificial intelligence technologies.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s state visit to Indonesia was also very successful and, according to the Indonesian Ambassador to the UAE Husin Bagis, “this is a dream come true.” Both of these countries are Muslim-majority countries, whose diplomatic relations have been successfully developing for more than 40 years. The largest island country in the world with the most populous Muslim majority, Indonesia was one of the first countries to recognize the establishment of the UAE in 1971. During the visit, the UAE expressed its commitment to increase its investment in the Indonesian economy. “The investments are currently less than $2 billion; there is a prospect of increasing them up to $5 billion,” said the Deputy Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources of the Republic of Indonesia Arcandra Tahar. The UAE is primarily interested in investing in the Indonesian energy sector, in cooperation with the state-owned oil and gas company Pertamina. Large investments will also be made in solar power plants, which are going to be built in a joint effort with the state power company. In addition, the parties discussed cooperation in the field of maritime traffic between the port of Dubai and the ports under the jurisdiction of the state company Pelindo.

The visits of the Abu Dhabi Crown Prince to these two largest countries of the East clearly show that, disappointed by the current US President D. Trump who failed to achieve any significant success in the external arena, the UAE leadership is beginning to establish fruitful cooperation with those countries that do not interfere in the internal affairs of the Emirates. In addition, it is clear that the current Chinese leadership is also looking for every opportunity to enter the Persian Gulf region and establish strong ties with the wealthy Arab States.

Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciencesexclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

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