- China’s port project in the UAE has been the focus of a spate of diplomatic interventions in recent months by senior US officials and prominent lawmakers on Capitol Hill. However, that project is currently on hold.
- US intelligence observed Chinese military ships disguised as commercial ships to collect signals of affection newspaper, enter the port.
- China has developed commercial ports in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as well as built its first overseas military base in Djibouti in 2017.
China’s port construction project in the UAE has been halted
China’s port project in the UAE has been the focus of a spate of diplomatic interventions in recent months by senior US officials and prominent lawmakers on Capitol Hill. This project will have a huge impact on the sale of advanced US jet fighters and other weapons to the UAE. However, that project is currently on hold.
For the past year, US officials have been closely monitoring construction at the commercial port of Khalifa, and they believe there is a military facility inside the port, about 50 miles from the UAE capital. The United States has always considered the UAE an important partner in counter-terrorism efforts in the region and has thousands of troops stationed at a Saudi Arabian airbase 20 miles from Abu Dhabi.
China’s port construction in the UAE was purely commercial, however, US intelligence observed Chinese military ships disguised as commercial ships to collect intelligence signals and enter the port.
Both the Trump administration and the Biden administration have sought to pressure the UAE to halt the project at the commercial port operated by a Chinese shipping consortium.
Officials remain divided over the extent to which the UAE is aware of China’s intentions. A spokesman for the UAE Embassy in Washington said the UAE never had an intention to host a Chinese military base or outpost of any kind.
China’s worldwide development plan
China has sought to develop commercial ports in outposts around the world. Accordingly, US officials see it as a clear attempt by China so that this billion-people nation can develop a strong foothold in the military. Currently, China has developed commercial ports in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as well as built its first overseas military base in Djibouti in 2017.
Senior US lawmakers also mentioned the port project with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, during a visit to the region in June. Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he discussed common US concerns on issues related to military operations. China’s involvement in the Middle East with bin Zayed.
Even though construction on the secretive development inside the port has now apparently been stopped, current and former officials say the broader Chinese presence in the country still may endanger the planned $23 billion sales of F-35 jets, Reaper drones, and other advanced munitions, two sources familiar with the matter explained.
However, the Biden administration’s ability to prevent China from building ports represents an important diplomatic victory for the United States in its efforts to compete with China on the international stage. UAE officials say the country will promote the sale of F-35s and hope to build a long-term relationship with the United States. Currently, there is no strategic competitor that can be able or willing to offer what the US is offering to the UAE and that is why they always choose the US.