The online Silk Road: China's growing influence on tech in the UAE

The online Silk Road: China's growing influence on tech in the UAE

The burgeoning Chinese tech industry is looking beyond its shores to imprint its influence in tech, and has now set its sights on the West. The UAE sits at a midpoint as it sweeps across the globe, nearing its goal. But rather than let this global shift pass us by, the Emirates are fast becoming a central partner and collaborator on China’s path to world tech domination.

It’s no secret that China wants to become the world’s leader in tech; for years the country has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in technology such as artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles, and are now said to be on the cusp of rivalling Silicon Valley in sheer scale.

The UAE for one, has welcomed the potential for collaboration. While 2018 numbers have not yet been released, in 2017, 1.3 million Chinese tourists arrived in the UAE. That’s a 45 per cent increase since 2013, according to data from international consultancy firm Colliers. The country has been quick to act on this rapid increase in Chinese interest. In fact, working with China has become a central pillar of the 50-year charter for Dubai, released by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai. Among the nine visions he laid out in January, was a Silk Road that runs through Dubai.

That Silk Road would connect the East and West, and the North and South. “Our next goal is to build our own Silk Road in co-operation with our friendly neighbours who share our vision,” the document says.

It’s an extension of a wider plan that already has its wheels set in motion, with Emirati leaders placing tech at the centre of their post-oil development plans. Sam Blatteis, chief executive of The Mena Catalysts, which advises technology companies on policy and government affairs in the region, says it’s a “key part of the UAE’s long-term strategy, which requires skilled experts, capital, and technology, three resources China has deep reservoirs of.”

“Chinese companies have built a local footprint in all seven emirates, and their government affairs leads are quite adept at clearing the path for them. The country has become the single-largest foreign investor in the Middle East [with investments worth] $29.5 billion (Dh108.33bn) in 2016 and Chinese companies are following in President Xi Jinping’s path of building out global businesses in the UAE, rather than just shipping products from China,” he says.


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