**This is the second of a two-part article series covering the UAE’s growing ties with China, and how this will severely impact the US. The first part covered how the UAE and China’s relationship is strengthening, and why this is concerning for the US.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) caught the United States off guard when it suddenly and unexpectedly announced it was suspending talks with the US regarding the $23 billion arms package promised to Abu Dhabi by the Trump administration in 2020. The move was immediately described as a “significant shake-up” between the two countries, and evidence of the UAE’s drift away from Washington and towards Beijing.
In this part two of Inside Arabia’s analysis of the burgeoning security ties between Beijing and Abu Dhabi, we take a closer look at the potential moral and ethical consequences of this nefarious relationship, one forged between two authoritarian regimes. The alliance may soon mean more suppression of residents and visitors to the UAE, along with those in neighboring states.
Beyond the obvious economic benefits, Emirati rulers are bedazzled by China’s eminence as the world’s most sophisticated hi-tech totalitarian state. And high on their wish list is every surveillance technology they can solicit, borrow, and buy from Beijing to maintain a firm grip on power and control at home, and also expand their colonial exploits in the Middle East and North Africa.
Emirati rulers are bedazzled by China’s eminence as the world’s most sophisticated hi-tech totalitarian state.
Quite simply, China is the “poster child” for every insecure autocratic regime on the planet. “It is in the field of information technology and data exploitation that the security partnership between Abu Dhabi and Beijing is growing in strategic depth,” observes Dr. Andreas Krieg, an assistant professor at the Defense Studies Department of King’s College London.
More to the point: Beijing is willing to give to Abu Dhabi what the United States won’t, because of American voters’ concerns about democracy, human rights, and rule of law.
For instance, the US recently put China’s Academy of Military Medical Sciences, along with a dozen other affiliated biotechnology research institutes, on an export blacklist for allegedly helping the Chinese military develop “brain control weaponry” for potential offensive use.
“Brain control weaponry” is a term used by Chinese government officials to describe any tool or equipment that interferes with a person’s ability to control his own thoughts and movements during combat operations.
In December 2021, US Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told reporters that China had opted to used technologies for surveillance and tracking in an effort to “pursue control over its people.” While another US official claimed the Asian superpower is using “emerging biotechnologies to develop future military applications, including gene editing, human performance enhancement, and brain-machine interfaces,” as reported by the national security magazine Defense Post.
China has test-driven many of these biotechnologies in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Zone, where Uyghur Muslims are subjected to an array of human rights violations, including mass detention, forced family separations, forced abortions, forced sterilizations, forced marriages, torture, and worse, according to multiple reports.
The UAE has become one of the fastest adopters of China’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology.
Now, while there’s no evidence the UAE has acquired “brain control weaponry” from China – at least for now – we do know the Emirate government has not only become one of the fastest adopters of China’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology but also mimicked China’s Orwellian named “Smart and Safe Cities” infrastructure project. This project deploys hundreds of thousands of CCTV cameras and facial recognition capabilities as well as infrared technology throughout Chinese cities, in launching surveillance projects such as “Police Without Policeman” and “Oyoon” (the Arabic word for “Eyes”) in 2016.
Implemented first in Dubai, Oyoon uses facial recognition technology and auto-analysis on data captured by tens of thousands of video feeds from cameras across the city that feedback into a central command center, observes the technology magazine Wired. Each of these cameras is equipped with biometric surveillance capabilities and is deployed along roads, public transit areas, shopping centers, and popular tourist destinations.
But as noted by the University of Pennsylvania’s Public Policy Center, the Emirati government, like the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), “makes use of a charitable interpretation of the term ‘criminals’ to include not only criminals like thieves and robbers, but also political dissidents, human rights activists, and journalists potentially threatening the monarchy.” It is important to remember that the UAE has one of the highest rates of political prisoners per capita in the world.
Amnesty accused Emirati rulers of “taking measures to silence citizens and residents.”
In its most recent report on the UAE, the human rights organization Amnesty International accused Emirati rulers of “taking measures to silence citizens and residents who expressed critical opinions on Covid-19 and other social and political issues.” It also pointed to the mass arrest without trial of human rights defenders, activists, and artists under draconian anti-terrorism laws, along with the use of torture to extract false confessions.
It’s little wonder the UAE views China as its Big Brother for “Big Brother-esq” surveillance technology.
This security relationship was made even more formal in 2019 when Abu Dhabi Investment Office signed a deal with Chinese AI firm SenseTime to base its regional research and development headquarters in the Emirates. The agreement establishes the UAE as China’s hub for biotechnology in the Middle East, according to Dubai-based newspaper The National.
Bill Marczak is a senior research fellow at Citizen Lab, the research group that discovered an Israeli cyber-surveillance company had developed technology (“Pegasus”) to hack into a target’s WhatsApp account, a tool purchased by the UAE. In an interview, Marczak said that surveillance companies are “very interested in doing business in the Gulf because these governments are very likely to pay much higher prices than Western governments.”
The UAE’s has a history of weaponizing surveillance technology against the US.
Clearly, the United States must go further in pressuring the UAE to distance itself from Chinese surveillance companies. This is especially critical given the UAE’s history in weaponizing surveillance technology against the US. In fact, the UAE’s cybersecurity firm Dark Matter hired a clandestine team under the operation name “Project Raven,” which included more than a dozen former US intelligence operatives to spy on dissidents and critics of the monarchy, including US citizens.
“Technology has indeed played a role in elevating the power of autocrats, as it has in China and the UAE. To staunch the rising tide of authoritarian rule, actions taken by the United States towards China, need to be similarly applied to the UAE to conserve national security and democratic principles,” warns the Public Policy Center.
Burgeoning UAE-China security ties should concern every American because if the United States is serious about its commitment to advancing democracy and human rights, it cannot tolerate “brain control weapons” and other inexcusable hi-tech surveillance technologies falling into the hands of repressive regimes, including those considered allies.