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UAE out-spends China to win influence

The world’s 32nd largest economy by GDP – the UAE --spends more per year on lobbying and propaganda than the 2nd largest – China

Between the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, the Emirates Investment Authority, Mubadala, and the Investment Corporation of Dubai; the UAE’s Sovereign Wealth Funds control well over $1 trillion. That is roughly equivalent to the total assets of the China Investment Fund, the world’s largest SWF; meaning the UAE has the capability of mobilising the same amount of capital as a country 140 times its size. If you thought that they were just spending this money on gaudy buildings and Lamborghinis, you would be mistaken.

The Emirates is strategically deploying these resources to expand its regional and global influence far beyond its geographical size; they are steadily building an arsenal of ‘soft power’ that cannot be ignored. For example, through DP World, the Emirates’ multinational logistics company, the UAE owns and operates a network of 78 marine and inland terminals in 40 countries across six continents, making the UAE a key actor in global supply chains and trade, as well as in maritime security.

Politically, the UAE has learned very quickly that its substantial capital can buy disproportionate influence, and they have accelerated their investments in this activity dramatically in recent years. According to a new report by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, the UAE paid over $64 million to at least 25 different lobbyist organisations between 2020 and 2021 – that is almost $90,000 per day; this included $1.6 million in direct political contributions, half a million of which was gifted to members of Congress. That is even more than what China spends on lobbying. Emirati representatives recorded making nearly 11,000 contacts with politicians on behalf of the UAE, which is staggeringly relentless. These lobbyist and PR organisations also promoted pro-UAE narratives to the largest mainstream media outlets in America, including the New York Times, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal.

The world’s 32nd largest economy by GDP – the UAE --spends more per year on lobbying and propaganda than the 2nd largest – China,” says Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Dubai, “The UAE is mobilising its almost bottomless pool of resources to vastly expand its reach and influence around the world. They are strictly controlling their image and the way other countries deal with them, particularly Western countries, quite simply by paying them off.”

Stirling has been the leading international voice condemning human rights abuses in the UAE, and campaigned against wrongful detentions in the country for 15 years. “We have long advocated democratic reforms in the UAE, improved standards of due process, the independence of the judiciary, and an end to torture and coercion by law enforcement; but this requires the cooperation of Western governments who are increasingly compromised by their lucrative relationship with the Emiratis.

“Our only other avenue for pressuring the UAE government is through media campaigns to spotlight cases of abuse, corruption, and unjust imprisonment; but again, the Emiratis are spending millions of dollars to spread misinformation about the country and curate their global image. Just recently it was announced that the UAE International Media Investment company, which produces rigidly pro-government propaganda publications, will be partnering with CNN to create potentially the largest Arabic-language business news outlet in the world; this will take the UAE government’s narrative to a whole new level, and will likely disincentivise CNN from covering stories that contradict that narrative – which is to say, stories that tell the objective truth about the Emirates.”

The UAE, Stirling says, has long prioritised image over reality; presenting itself to the world as a modern, Westernised country while having a stubbornly autocratic and corrupt regime. “It is tremendously dangerous for the UAE to be perceived as qualitatively more liberal and safer than China, North Korea, or any other dictatorship,” she warns, “This is a country where forced confessions, torture, fabrication of evidence, detention without trial, deaths in custody, coercion, illegal seizure of assets, and malicious prosecutions are absolutely routine; to say nothing of the oppression of women, the persecution of the LGBT community, and the denial of free speech. It is abhorrent that the UAE can be regarded as a prime holiday destination and a hub for investment. If the Emirates actually qualified for this sort of positive reputation, they would not have to spend as much as Communist China to manufacture that image.”


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