Concerns over growing ties between UAE and China could impact sale of F-35s: report

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Growing ties between the United Arab Emirates and China have U.S. officials worried that a $23 billion weapons sale to Abu Dhabi will be impacted.

American spy agencies have tracked new transport flights between the two countries, with China’s People’s Liberation Army planes landing at an airport in the U.A.E., U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal.

The new movement has the Biden administration worried that Abu Dhabi might allow China to access the United States’ latest defense technology should Washington go through with the multi-billion dollar sale of a possible 50 F-35 fighters, 18 Reaper drones and munitions.

Biden administration officials are reportedly now seeking guarantees that the Emirates won’t allow other nations to access the technology if it continues with the sale, which the Trump administration negotiated and approved in its final days as part of Abu Dhabi agreeing to normalize relations with Israel.

“The transfer of the F-35—the crown jewel in the U.S. arsenal—implies a degree of Emirati monogamy with Washington,” David Schenker, the former assistant secretary of State for near eastern affairs under President Trump, told the Journal. “More work needs to be done before these systems can be transferred,” he said.

The U.A.E., meanwhile, sought to alleviate fears by pointing to its “long and consistent track record of protecting U.S. military technology, both in coalitions where we’ve served alongside the U.S. military and inside the U.A.E. where a broad range of sensitive U.S. military assets have been deployed for many years,” according to the Emirati ambassador to the U.S., Yousef Otaiba.

Shortly after taking office, President Biden paused the arms package to review it, but in April decided to move forward, arguing it would be years before the weapons are delivered and therefore there will be enough time to address outstanding concerns.

The F-35s wouldn’t be delivered to the U.A.E. until 2027.

But Biden is proceeding with the deal despite most senators from his party voting against it last year.

And in April, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced a bill aimed at restricting the sale of F-35s to the Emirates over “numerous outstanding, unanswered questions about the implications of this sale for U.S. national security, our technology interests, and implications for regional stability.”

In the backdrop of the deal is China, which is very likely to build additional overseas military facilities in the U.A.E. as the two countries expand communication, according to a 2020 Pentagon report on China’s military plans.

Biden administration officials told the Journal that they are still negotiating the deal’s conditions with the Emirati government, and have made requests that Israel maintain its qualitative military edge; that the U.A.E. ensure other countries, in particular China, don’t have access to the F-35 and drone technology; and that there be limits on the weapons’ use in Yemen and Libya.

“We have a comprehensive security dialogue under way with the U.A.E. where we can and do raise any concerns we have on any issues. That is how we will protect U.S. national security interests across the board,” Pentagon spokeswoman Navy Cmdr. Jessica McNulty, said in a statement to the Journal after a delegation of senior White House, Defense Department and State Department officials visited the U.A.E. earlier this month.

Tags Bob Menendez China Defense Department Dianne Feinstein DOD Donald Trump F-35 fighter jet Joe Biden Pentagon UAE United Arab Emirates
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