Links bring parties closer
Despite being separated by time, distance, language and culture, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) share a great deal, with the principal focus falling on economic and social ties.
Both have a population of around 7 million, although the UAE - made up of the emirates of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain - cover much more territory.
'Hong Kong and the UAE have a very special relationship,' says Dr Ahmed Elbeshlawy, cultural and economic analyst at the UAE consulate in Hong Kong.
'Hong Kong's economic autonomy makes it one of the best trade and investment destinations for UAE companies, while on the other hand, the UAE has always been - and still is - the largest export market for Hong Kong in the Middle East.'
The numbers speak for themselves. The UAE attracted foreign direct investments estimated at US$60 billion, placing the country second among the most attractive states for foreign capital, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development's 2011 report on global investment.
In the same period, the emirates' foreign trade grew by an impressive 14 per cent, reaching US$205 billion.
The volume of trade between Hong Kong and the UAE rebounded after a slack period in 2009, registering growth of 47 per cent last year. This compared favourably with 12 per cent growth during 2010.
'Negotiations have been taking place between Hong Kong and the UAE to sign an agreement on the surrender of fugitive offenders, and another on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters,' Elbeshlawy adds. 'Significant progress has [been] achieved in drafting the final terms of those two agreements.'
On the subject of international treaties, an agreement for the avoidance of double taxation between Hong Kong and the UAE has been finalised and given its preliminary agreement. The final official signing of the agreement is expected in the second half of 2012. 'A lot of mutual visits by state officials, business leaders and major companies from both the UAE and Hong Kong have been taking place in recent years,' Elbeshlawy says.
'The most recent was the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority's top officials to Hong Kong, last month, in which they had meetings with the chamber of commerce, the tourism board, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) and InvestHK, among others.'
The UAE has a strong commercial presence in Hong Kong, with seven major enterprises operating in the city on a day-to-day basis. They are: DP World, which specialises in international marine terminal operations; Mashreq Bank; National Bank of Abu Dhabi; Emirates Shipping Line; Emirates Airlines; the Department of Tourism and Commercial Marketing, which is part of the government of Dubai's Hong Kong office; and UAE Exchange, a leading global money transfer and foreign-exchange brand.
The HKTDC has an established branch in Dubai, covering the Middle East and North Africa.
'The relationship between the UAE and Hong Kong is marked by open horizons for more co-operation in the near future,' Elbeshlawy adds.
Hand-in-hand with Hong Kong's relationship with the UAE, China's association with the emirates has historically been mounted on high-level trade.
More than 2,000 Chinese firms are operating in the UAE, which is also host to a large community of Chinese who are involved primarily in the construction sector. Additionally, the UAE is China's second-largest trading partner in the Gulf region and the largest in terms of buying Chinese products.
The UAE has often been commended for being one of China's most important economic partners in the Gulf region, serving as a transfer centre for Chinese products to the Middle East and African markets.
Senior Chinese officials have encouraged emirati businesses to invest in China, and Chinese companies to invest in the UAE, with the aim of expanding bilateral co-operation, which in turn will help with the fundamental interests of both nations.
The UAE has been looking to the future, and alternative sources of income apart from oil. High-class tourism and international finance are the main new sectors starting
to be developed, the latter spearheaded by the Dubai International Financial Centre, which offered 55.5 per cent foreign ownership, no withholding tax, freehold land and office space and a tailor-made financial regulatory system, with laws taken from best practice in other leading financial centres.
And the property sector has served the UAE well, with developments such as Palm Islands, The World, Dubai Marina and Jumeirah Lake Towers offering villas and high-rise apartments and office space that have made headlines and attracted capital from around the globe.