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Interview

H.E. Chang Hua – Chinese Ambassador to the UAE, Abu Dhabi

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Chinese Ambassador to the UAE, H.E. Chang Hua, provides an overview of China-UAE bilateral relations, emphasizing the historical ties between the two countries and the extremely positive outlook he holds for the future, the diverse multitude of sectors benefiting from China-UAE cooperation, as well as his strategy and vision for the future development of China-UAE relations.

You have been the Chinese Ambassador to the UAE for over a year now. Can you provide a brief overview of the current China-UAE bilateral relations?

The ancient Silk Road connected the Chinese and Emirati peoples in time-honored friendship as early as the 7th century. This year marks the 32nd anniversary of the establishment of formal diplomatic ties between the two countries. The establishment of a strategic partnership between China and the UAE in 2012 has placed bilateral relations on the fast track, with mutual political trust deepening with the increasing frequency of high-level visits, in particular, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed’s successful visit to China in December 2015. Critically, bilateral relations are multi-dimensional and the two countries enjoy cooperation and collaboration across a wide number of sectors.

The importance of the trade and investment aspects of bilateral relations is underlined by the fact that the UAE has been China’s second-largest trading partner and the biggest export market in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region for many years in a row. In spite of the sluggish global economy and low oil price, bilateral trade stood at USD 48.55 billion in 2015.

Chinese enterprises are also taking an active role in the development of transport and telecommunications infrastructure in the UAE. For instance, there are now over 150 flights between China and the UAE every week. Financial cooperation between the two countries is also proceeding steadily, with a common investment fund of USD 10 billion having been set up and currency swap agreements signed. Notably, the UAE is also a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and will establish a RMB clearing center as well.

Socio-cultural exchanges and dialogues are also increasing in frequency, whether in the areas of education, youth, media or tourism, further bolstering the solid foundations of the China-UAE friendship.

In light of these developments, it is fair to say that the China-UAE relationship is at its strongest.

The Middle East has long been marked by political instability, which you are undoubtedly familiar with, given your extensive diplomatic career in the Middle East in countries like Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon. What is the strategic significance of the UAE in the Middle East?

The UAE is a remarkable beacon of light in the Middle East. It enjoys the excellent fortunes of political stability, high economic and social development levels, good geographical location, modern infrastructure, convenient capital flows and strong market forces, thus making it an important regional transport hub as well as financial and trade center. As we have always emphasized to our UAE partners, stability is a prerequisite for sustained economic growth, not least because foreign investors look for a stable investment environment. As one of the most stable and open countries in the region, the UAE is able to play a positive role for China in enlarging cooperation with the Middle East and Gulf region.

China and the UAE are strategic partners, meaning that China-UAE cooperation is a strategic choice made by the two countries rather than a temporary decision made by a whim.

The Middle East has been a strategic region for a while, not least because of its oil and gas assets, but the landscape is becoming increasing competitive with the entrance of relatively newer Asian players like Japan, South Korea, India and of course, China, exerting pressure on existing Western players. How will China make sure that its interests in the UAE and even in this region remain at the forefront of the agenda?

As the largest developing country in the world, the top priority for China is to achieve the two centennial goals of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (the Belt and the Road) and in doing that, realize our dream: the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people. Energy security is undoubtedly a crucial requisite for the realization of this dream.

China’s energy policy is that we will safeguard our energy security through both domestic and international means. Domestically, we are introducing sweeping changes in energy consumption, supply, technical innovation and management system. Internationally, we are working with other countries to achieve win-win partnerships. The UAE is rich in energy; China and the UAE have conducted fruitful cooperation in the energy sector. As the Chinese Ambassador to the UAE, I will continue to further extend bilateral energy cooperation in a sustainable manner.

That said, as Chinese President Xi Jinping indicated during his recent visit to Egypt, China’s policy to the Middle East is made on its own merits and stems from a consideration of the fundamental interests of the people in the region. China will not find a proxy in the Middle East; its goal is peace and mutual benefit. China will not seek to establish a sphere of influence in the Middle East; it will invite other countries to build the Belt and the Road together. China will not seek to fill a power vacuum; it seeks to weave a network of win-win cooperation.

China and the UAE have long shared similar positions on international and regional issues as both countries uphold the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and the basic norms governing international relations. We respect the right of regional countries to choose their own political system and way of development in an independent manner and we strongly oppose interference into the internal affairs of other countries.

I believe this accommodating, tolerant and understanding approach is the reason for the successful and speedy development of China-UAE relations and how we have been able to safeguard regional peace, stability and development jointly with the UAE.

What measures is the Chinese Embassy taking to assist Chinese enterprises in the UAE, both specifically in oil and gas and more generally in other industries?

The Chinese Embassy has long been helping Chinese enterprises find business opportunities and urging them to operate in accordance with the laws and regulations of the UAE. We urge Chinese enterprises to conduct personnel training, technical transfer and joint research with the Emiratis. Beyond the commercial aspects, we also urge Chinese companies to take an active part in social charity and support local communities. We will continue to do so in the future.

At present, there are over 4,000 Chinese enterprises in the UAE, both large state-owned enterprises with global influence as well as small and medium enterprises and self-employed enterprises, notably in Dubai’s Dragon Mart. They operate across diverse sectors like energy, telecommunications, transport, construction, trade, finance, securities and service, just to name a few.

Chinese enterprises are also making great inroads into technical research and development, which contributes to making the “Made in China” marker a synonym of innovation and good quality. This will also help raise the profiles of Chinese enterprises in the region.

At the opening ceremony of the 6th Ministerial Conference of China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasized the importance of extending trade cooperation between China and the Gulf region. Recent years have witnessed significant diversification in commodity trade between China and the UAE, for instance, with expansion into industrial capacity, infrastructure, equipment and telecommunications technology. There is also great potential for increased cooperation in the new areas of aviation and new energy. We will continue to encourage Chinese enterprises to conduct trade and investment in the aforementioned fields.

Looking more broadly, following China’s explosive growth in the past decade, the recent slowdown in the Chinese economy – for instance, China’s 2015 GDP growth was 6.9 percent, a drop of 0.4 percentage point on a year-on-year basis – has led to some criticism that China is now a burden on the world. In addition, falling oil prices have been partly attributed to weakening demand from China. What is your perspective on the future of the Chinese economy?

Given China’s strategic importance, it is understandable that there is great scrutiny of China’s economic performance, in particular GDP growth. My view is that any rational judgment of China’s economic performance must bear in mind the overall context of the New Normal. First, a growth rate of 6.9 percent falls well within our expectations. China’s overall GDP is now more than USD 10 trillion, which means that one percentage point of growth is equal to 1.5 percentage point five years ago and 2.6 percentage points ten years ago. This slowdown is sensible within the context of the current size of the Chinese economy.

Second, a growth rate of 6.9 percent, achieved against the backdrop of a sluggish global economy, is no mean feat, especially among emerging economies with bad economic performance of stagflation. China has also stepped up economic restructuration with ample employment, increasing income and better environment. Under such circumstances, we are not going to quibble over a difference of less than half a percentage point. China is currently introducing new engines for economic development, with the support of mass entrepreneurship, new technologies and innovation.

China remains a major driving force for the global economy. China’s GDP accounts for 15 percent of the global GDP of USD 73 trillion and in 2015, China contributed 25 percent of global economic growth. China represents a critical positive force for the steady growth of the global economy.

In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the important initiatives of the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. What opportunities and challenges will these initiatives bring to the China-UAE relationship?

The initiative of Belt and Road coincides with the initiative of rejuvenating the Silk Road by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. Since time immemorial, the Silk Road has been a symbol of commerce, civilization and win-win cooperation. Against the backdrop of the new international political and economic configuration, replete with both opportunities and challenges, it is of special strategic significance for the two countries to rejuvenate the Silk Road, both on land and sea, so as to promote regional economic development and cultural progress.

The initiatives of Belt and Road cover five goals, namely policy coordination, smooth trade, connectivity, currency circulation, and cultural friendship, which are the five priorities for bilateral relations. A wise man must know when to grasp opportunities. These will have far-reaching consequences for the strategic partnership between the two countries.

China views the UAE as an important partner in the development of the Belt and Road and stands ready to work with the UAE in carrying forward the Silk Road spirit of peaceful cooperation, openness and mutually beneficial learning.

This is my second posting to the UAE and I am very grateful to be able to return to a country that has enjoyed such rich historical ties with China. As the Chinese Ambassador to the UAE, I will do my utmost to realize the blueprint for bilateral relations drawn by the leaders of both countries for bilateral relations, enrich the content of China-UAE strategic partnership and extend the friendship between the two peoples. I am fully confident that the China-UAE relationship has a bright future.

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