top of page

The UAE and Asia’s Middle Class

This post was originally posted in The New Silk Road Monitor here.

This is an important piece on the CNN site penned by an influential minister in the UAE, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, on the UAE’s growing role as a nexus for trade and travel fueled by emerging middle classes, particularly in China and India. It follows a landmark visit by Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan to India. He also recently visited China, a visit I wrote about in the Foreign Policy Institute blog of Johns Hopkins SAIS.

A few key excerpts from the piece (bold italics are mine):

“Recent visits to India and China by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, show how fast global trade patterns are changing as Asia’s rising middle class shifts wealth from north to south.”

“The United Arab Emirates sits at the pivot point of this re-balancing of the global trade flows. In the last decade, India and China have emerged as the UAE’s biggest trading partners — each does about $60 billion in trade with us every year.”

“In this regard, our aims are perfectly aligned with those of India and China. President Xi Jinping’s initiative to enhance trade along the ancient silk route, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Make in India’ plan to expand the country’s manufacturing base, are focused on ensuring stability by expanding prosperity, not only for their people, but for their neighbors — a principle that also lies at the core of our policies.”

“The UAE’s commitment to invest billions of dollars in India and China demonstrate the strength of our relations with both countries, but the bonds with each go much deeper than any dollar figure can represent.”

“Numbering some two million, Indian nationals comprise the biggest share of the UAE’s diverse expatriate population. Chinese nationals also make up a sizeable minority of nearly 200,000. Cultural and trade links with each go back centuries, and today both communities make a significant contribution not only to our economy, but, in an increasingly connected world, to their home economies too.”

Again, for the full piece see: “Asia’s Middle Class is Reshaping World Trade.”

Readers of this blog will know that this is a vital theme that I’ve written on, such as in my piece on Dubai’s Dragon Mart in Foreign Policy magazine, another FP piece “The Arab Battle for U.S Skies,” that outlined the showdown between the Arabian peninsula carriers and the US carriers, and several other works, including my John Hopkins SAIS white paper on UAE-Africa ties, featured on this site.

I’ve often felt that the UAE gets “ghetto-ized” into the “Middle East” – a term invented by an American naval strategist in 1902. The UAE is geo-commercially Asian, with deep and historic ties to India and Iran, and dramatically growing ties with China. To simply refer to the UAE as a “moderate Middle East player” or part of the “Sunni Gulf states” — shorthand often employed in Western media — fails to accurately “locate” the UAE as a nexus state at the hub of trade and logistics corridors between Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and even Europe, or its rise as something of a Miami/Singapore/Hong Kong for the New Silk Road. The commercial world understood this role, but the political and media world has been slow to get it.

Part of the ghetto-ization has been self-inflicted, as the UAE as nexus story has never been systematically told by UAE officials. Instead, the story that has tended to dominate the narrative in Western media has been UAE as plucky, “moderate,” “Sunni” ally — terms that are so broad they are almost meaningless. It’s good to see a prominent UAE official staking a claim to the Asia and the emerging markets story. After all, the UAE is part of West Asia.

And despite the current fears in global equities markets about the emerging markets, I have no doubt that the future of world trade will continued to rebalance heavily toward the so-called “East” and the New Silk Road broadly defined will continue to play a vital role in this re-shaping of our global commercial geography.


Afshin Molavi is a Senior Fellow at the Johns Hopkins Foreign Policy Institute, where he writes broadly on emerging markets, particularly on themes related to "The New Silk Road," South-South trade, global hub cities, new emerging market multinationals, global aviation, the geopolitics of energy, and the intersection of Middle East states and the global economy.

bottom of page