As China becomes more closely entwined with the UAE as a whole, the Emirate of Sharjah is planning to make itself an indispensable partner for Beijing, offering its diverse economy and sophisticated industrial infrastructure as an attractive base for Chinese investment
There is no doubt that the relationship between China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is moving ahead quickly, with the latter a key player in terms of transport, infrastructure and financing as Beijing rolls out its Belt and Road Initiative, which will span the globe between Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the UAE in July saw a series of deals signed as part of a “comprehensive strategic partnership” between the two nations. This sense of connection was reaffirmed by the announcement in October that UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan has appointed a special envoy to China, naming Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak, CEO of the influential state-owned Mubadala Development Company, to the newly created role.
Currently, the Chinese population in the UAE has risen to 200,000, while trade between the two nations grew to $53.3 billion in 2017, up 15.1 percent on the previous year. According to the UAE’s Ministry of Economy, commerce with China made up 14.7 percent of the UAE’s total foreign trade in 2017. Sharjah, the third-largest of federation’s seven emirates, wants to position itself as a key junction within the Belt and Road network, putting forward its air and sea connections and flexible economic focus on a diversity of industrial and technological sectors as arguments.
Sharjah’s investment authorities will harness the UAE’s delegation at the first China International Import Expo, opening in Shanghai on November 5, to develop bilateral contacts. And one month later Sharjah is hosting the China Trade Week Middle East 2018 event. “China is currently the leading outward FDI country in the world, and we have a historic bilateral relationship and strong trade ties,” says Mohamed Juma Al Musharrkh, the CEO of Invest in Sharjah, adding that having a branch of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT) based in the emirate and the upcoming Trade Week event represent further opportunities to deepen ties.
China is already a major presence in Sharjah. Chinese transactions in the emirate more than double the number involving Saudi Arabia and are four times greater than those of Russia, as well as surpassing countries such as Britain, France and the United States. With its focus on industry, diversified economy, direct air links to China and position at the crossroads of Asia and the Middle East with three deep-water ports, Sharjah is potentially a magical match for Chinese-based investors. “We are the industrial hub of the UAE. About 35 percent of the country’s industry takes place in Sharjah,” notes Al Musharrkh.
But beyond Sharjah’s productive presence in sectors as diverse as petrochemicals, construction, manufacturing and IT, the emirate’s drive to create investment-friendly instruments for foreign companies and the expansion of its free zone initiative means it is ready to become an ultra-flexible springboard for future business in the region. “We want to attract sectors that do not currently exist in the UAE,” says Saud Salim Al Mazrouei, director of Hamriyah Free Zone Authority (HFZA) and Sharjah Airport International Free Zone Authority (SAIF).