China’s President Xi Jinping wraps up UAE visit with series of deals to boost presence in Middle East

Chinese leader leaves Gulf having wrapped a number of agreements in fields such as energy and security

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 July, 2018, 8:01pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 July, 2018, 11:26pm

China and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to strengthen their cooperation on a wide range of areas from trade to military and energy as President Xi Jinping wrapped up his visit to the Middle Eastern nation on Saturday.

Xi arrived in Senegal on Saturday for the start of a tour of Africa that will seek to develop China’s economic and military ties on the continent.

At the end of a showy, three-day visit to the UAE, during which the Chinese leader was given a horse by his Emirati counterpart, the two countries signed a slew of agreements.

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These included one for strategic cooperation between two state-owned oil companies, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and China National Petroleum Company, after the former awarded US$1.6 billion worth of contracts to the latter.

The agreements and memoranda of understanding also played up Xi’s signature Belt and Road Initiative and included a deal to allow state-owned financial services firm Industrial Capacity Co-Operation Financial Group to set up a lending platform in Abu Dhabi.

A deal was also reached for the Zhejiang China Commodities City Group to build a “traders market” at the Dubai Jebel Ali free economic zone.

The joint statement issued by the two nations also announced plans for joint military training exercises.

The trip is Xi’s first tour abroad since starting his second term as president last year and highlights the importance of both Africa and the Middle East to belt and road projects and for Beijing’s wide-ranging energy and security needs, analysts said.

China is the UAE’s top trading partner, with trade reaching over US$50 billion last year, according to official statistics.

The Gulf state also is a gateway for around 60 per cent of Chinese exports to the Middle East, which is in turn the source of most China’s energy imports.

The newly signed deals come on the heels of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum in Beijing last week, where Xi pledged US$20 billion in developmental loans to Arab States.

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Jonathan Fulton, assistant professor at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, said that Gulf countries in particular are critical for the success of the Belt and Road since they are a “crucial hub in the initiative,” particularly since regional instability could have a serious disruptive effect.

“The UAE is a major Arab partner for China and this trip represents that,” he said.

“As the UAE has been quite active in shaping events the Middle East, it makes sense that Beijing would want to engage more deeply.”

Tugrul Keskin, director of the Centre for Global Governance at Shanghai University, said the Middle East is vital to China’s security and energy reasons.

“More than any other region in the world, the Middle East needs stability and economic development,” he said.

“Instability in the Middle East will definitely have a negative impact on China’s foreign and domestic politics that China cannot ignore.”

Xi will be visiting Senegal and then Rwanda in the next few days, before heading to South Africa for the 10th annual BRICS summit for a key bloc of emerging economies, including Brazil, Russia and India.

Additional reporting by Kinling Lo