chapter  8
China and the United Arab Emirates
Pages 13

On 3 December 1971, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan, the founder and the first President of the newly independent United Arab Emirates (UAE), sent a diplomatic cable to both the Republic of China (ROC) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to inform their governments of the independence of the UAE. This is a customary procedure in international relations; it has been used as an informative step and as an instrument to secure diplomatic recognition. Chou En-lai, PRC’s premier, sent a letter back in 5 days recognizing the UAE. To China’s dismay, the UAE’s government ‘did not reciprocate’1 the recognition because of Saudi pressure. The UAE had no grounds for rejection; if anything, it had many reasons to recognize China and expand its diplomatic recognition base, unlike Kuwait in 1961 or later Oman. In fact, China sent military aid to the Dhofar Liberation Front (DLF), lengthening the civil war in Oman for the period from 1962 to 1976. The DLF was a leftist-Maoist organization that fought against the Sultan of Oman, while Kuwait and China had normal relations despite Saudi opposition since 1962. Saudi Arabia was the only Gulf country to oppose China’s membership of the United Nations in 1971, whereas Kuwait advocated it, supported it and lobbied for it. By the end of 1978, four Gulf countries had denied PRC recognition: the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Other regional monarchies such as Oman, Jordan and Iran realized early on the pragmatic nature of China’s foreign policy (a trend that began at the end of the 1960s), and began to establish diplomatic relations with China as early as 1971. Instead, it took Saudi Arabia two more decades to comprehend the changes in China’s foreign policy and establish diplomatic relations (21 July 1990). Since 1984, when the UAE finally recognized the PRC, Sino-Emirati relations have developed dramatically, to the extent that, currently, the UAE is serving as an economic hub for China, but also for the Gulf and Middle East region, Africa and the world.