The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has become dependent on China’s economic engine, with trade between the two countries accounting for 43 percent of the UAE’s foreign revenue, making it Beijing’s most important trade partner in the Middle East and home to thousands of Chinese companies.
But like so many other countries addicted to the Asian superpower’s buying power, the UAE is discovering that China does not do business with reciprocity in mind, but with the intent to dominate and subjugate its trading partners.
China does not do business with reciprocity in mind, but with the intent to dominate and subjugate its trading partners.
“The Communist Party is in essence a secret society,” wrote the late and renowned sinologist Pierre Ryckmans. “In its methods and mentality, it presents a striking resemblance to an underworld mob. It fears daylight, feeds on deception and conspiracy, and rules by intimidation and fear.”
From Australia to Europe to Africa, China has been accused of carrying out an array of clandestine operations against its trade partners, including stealing intellectual property, kidnapping, illegal surveillance, and infiltrating political parties, universities, and civic groups with its network of spies.
In November, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the Biden administration held urgent talks with the UAE after US intelligence agencies found China had begun construction of a secret military facility in the Arab country, with satellite imagery revealing suspicious construction work inside a container terminal built and operated by the Chinese shipping corporation Cosco.
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The evidence included huge excavations for a multi-story building, along with efforts to conceal the construction from Emirati authorities. According to the report, the UAE had no clue this was happening right under its nose.
“The UAE has never had an agreement plan, talks or intention to host a Chinese military base or outpost of any kind,” the UAE embassy in Washington DC told the Wall Street Journal.
A senior US official was a little more evasive, however, even hinting at UAE acquiescence with Beijing over the Chinese military facility, stating, “The Emirates have said this isn’t happening. I refer you to the Emirates about this specific project, but I can tell you that we are committed to our enduring partnership between the United States and the UAE,” while another US government source told CNN the Emirates had to be “convinced” to shut down the project, adding, “But it’s still a live issue.”
The Emirates had to be “convinced” to shut down the project, adding, “But it’s still a live issue.”
Ultimately, US officials remain divided over whether the UAE knew about China’s intentions, as both the US National Security Council and the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC refuse to comment on the matter.
Regardless, the revelation brings enormous embarrassment and discomfort to the Emirati state, given the US considers the UAE a key military partner in the region, with thousands of troops stationed at an air base on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi.
There is no doubt that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) will be fretting over whether these disclosures have jeopardized the sale of the US-manufactured F-35 fighter jet program, which is widely considered the most advanced weapons platform ever built.
“The F-35 is our crown jewel. We need to be able to protect technology and security for all of our partners,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Mira Resnick told CNN on November 27. “Those are the conversations we are having with the Emiratis about what kind of choices they can make now, to make sure they can be part of the F-35 program.”
On November 20, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, tweeted in response to the Wall Street Journal report: “I was honored to meet with His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and others during my visit in June about our mutual concern regarding Chinese military activities in the Middle East. I look forward to making sure the Biden administration continues productive conversations with our Emirati friends about advancing the F-35 sale, which would build our long-term relationship.”
MbZ has been put on notice by the US government and that his country’s ever-closer military ties to Beijing will not be tolerated.
Many observers rightly interpret Inhofe’s tweet to be a warning to MbZ that he has been put on notice by the US government and that his country’s ever-closer military ties to Beijing will not be tolerated.
Revelations regarding the would-be Chinese military facility come only months after a bombshell report by the Associated Press revealed China to be operating a covert “black site” in Dubai to round up, interrogate, and deport dissidents and Uyghur Muslims.
A 26-year-old Chinese national described how she was abducted from a hotel in Dubai and detained by Chinese officials at a villa converted into a jail, where she saw and heard two other prisoners, both Uyghurs.
Her account not only constitutes the first evidence that China is operating a so-called “black site” beyond its borders, but also that the UAE has offered up its sovereignty to Beijing in exchange for the economic benefits that trading with a global superpower, like China, brings.
Ultimately, the Emirati government will be forced to pick a side, which the US made clear to Abu Dhabi on November 30, when Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Mira Resnick told CNN, “The US remains the partner of choice for all our allies in the region,” adding, “None of the strategic competitors are able, they’re not capable or willing to offer what the United States offers.”
In other words as the contestation between China and the United States continues its seemingly inevitable trajectory towards a shooting war, most likely in the South China Sea, the UAE won’t be able to have its cake and China, too – so to speak.