There’s a great piece in the Abu Dhabi-based English daily, The National, that explores the rise of China’s tech players in the UAE. The piece quotes extensively from my friend, Sam Blatteis, who is one of the sharpest analysts and consultants on the New Silk Road beat with a Middle East/North Africa (MENA) focus. Some striking highlights from the piece:

  • 1.3 million Chinese tourists visited the UAE last year
  • Alibaba announced a $600 million “Tech Town” investment in Dubai “which would one day house 3,000 firms developing robotics, artificial intelligence, and mobile apps. It’s slated to be five times the size of the Pentagon and built near Dubai’s Jebel Ali port.”
  • Sam Blatteis notes the distinction between the Chinese firms that chose UAE as their HQ versus those that chose Egypt: “The Chinese tech titans are accelerating at different speeds in the UAE. Those that have chosen to headquarter in the country (Alibaba, Huawei) for the Arab world are well ahead of those that have not: China’s answer to Google, Baidu, for instance, which headquartered in Egypt with about 40 employees at its height – seem to have left the Middle East approximately 18 months ago,” Blatteis says.
  • The National writes: “The UAE’s smartphone penetration is the highest in the world at 73.8 per cent, with more than 90 per cent of the population having access to the internet. This has laid fertile ground for Chinese smartphone conglomerates to come knocking. Many of them were drawn to the UAE, in particular, for the focus on fifth generation connectivity, which is due to arrive in the UAE this year. Technology analysts estimate 5G connectivity will boost the GCC economy by $269bn over 10 years with cheaper, faster internet access and connecting devices through the Internet of Things.”
  • Sam Blatteis again: “The intense competition coming from the Far East has left western companies fighting for attention. “Nearly every large Chinese tech company is cementing long-term ties with the UAE tech sector, looking at the Emirates as a hub for finance and technology investments, not simply a customer for ads, marketing and users. Simply put, China is rewriting the rules on how to rise in influence in the Middle East. Because of the UAE’s goliath-sized ports and the country’s geographic position almost sandwiched between Saudi Arabia to its West and Iran to its East, the UAE is thinking at-scale too about how to contribute to both Silk Road routes.”


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