Construction of secret project at Chinese port in UAE halted after US pressure, officials say

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The port project has been the subject of a wave of diplomatic engagements in recent months from senior U.S. officials and prominent lawmakers on Capitol Hill and has potentially jeopardized the sale of advanced U.S. fighter jets and d other ammunition advanced to the United Arab Emirates.

“The last time we checked, we managed to convince the Emiratis to shut down the project,” a source close to intelligence said. “But it’s still an ongoing problem.”

The Wall Street Journal first reported that construction on the facility had been halted.

For at least a year, US officials have been closely monitoring the construction of what they believed to be a military installation inside the commercial port of Khalifa, about 80 kilometers from the UAE capital. The United States views the United Arab Emirates as a key partner in counterterrorism efforts in the region and has thousands of troops based at a UAE air base 20 miles from Abu Dhabi.

Although China – and the United Arab Emirates – have described the port business as purely commercial, U.S. intelligence has observed ships disguised as commercial vessels that authorities have recognized as a type typically used by the Chinese military for the collection of electromagnetic intelligence entering the port, according to two sources. familiar with intelligence.

Officials remain divided over what the UAE knew of China’s intentions. A spokesperson for the United Arab Emirates embassy in Washington said in a statement that the United Arab Emirates “had never had an agreement, plan, talks or intention to host a military base or a Chinese outpost of any kind “.

The United States National Security Council declined to comment. The Chinese Embassy did not respond to a request for comment.

China is developing ports around the world

China has sought to develop commercial ports at outposts across the world in what US officials see as a clear effort to develop a base for military access. China has developed commercial ports in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and built its first overseas military base in Djibouti in 2017.

The Trump administration and the Biden administration have sought to pressure the United Arab Emirates to halt the port project, which is run by a Chinese shipping conglomerate.

Senior US lawmakers also discussed the port project with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, during a visit to the region in June. Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a tweet that he had discussed “our mutual concern about Chinese military activities in the Middle East” with bin Zayed.

Even though construction of the secret development inside the port has apparently been halted, current and former officials say the larger Chinese presence in the country could still endanger the planned sale of $ 23 billion of F planes. -35, Reaper drones and other advanced munitions, two of the sources familiar with the matter explained.

Taiwan unveils new F-16V fighter jets amid Chinese military threats

“The F-35 is our crown jewel. We must be able to protect the technology and the security of all of our partners,” Assistant Under Secretary of State Mira Resnick told CNN earlier this week. “These are the conversations we are having with the Emiratis about what kind of choice they can make now, to make sure they can be part of the F-35 program.”

Nonetheless, the fact that the Biden administration was able to prevent construction of the facility represents a key diplomatic victory in its efforts to compete with China on the international stage, according to current and former officials. They underline the leverage created both by the negotiations on the F-35 – which could now accelerate – and the signing of the Abrahamic Accords, which normalized relations between Israel and certain Gulf countries, including the United Arab Emirates, under President Donald Trump.

“I am delighted with this development today,” wrote Inhofe. “I look forward to ensuring that the Biden administrator continues productive conversations with our Emirati friends on the progress of the sale of the F-35, which would strengthen our long-term relationship.”

Resnick told reporters in a briefing on Tuesday that the United States remains the “partner of choice for all of our allies in the region.”

“None of the strategic competitors are able, they are not able or willing to offer what the United States offers. So our partners and allies are well aware of this, and that is why they consistently choose the United States. “she said.

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