Innovation zone in Dubai eyes Chinese companies

Dubai wants Chinese companies to explore opportunities in a dedicated innovation zone in the city that is positioned to be a “powerful enabler” of the Belt and Road Initiative.

District 2020, the legacy site of the six-month Expo 2020 Dubai, is looking to attract Chinese enterprises that fit into its technology-driven innovation system and leverage the cosmopolitan Middle Eastern city as a springboard for international push, said Nadimeh Mehra, vice-president of Legacy Development and Impact at District 2020.

“China and the United Arab Emirates share a long and fruitful history of economic collaboration that we are eager to help continue through the platform of growth that District 2020 will provide,” she said.

District 2020’s vision is to support the continued development of the UAE’s knowledge and innovation economy, with a focus on key growth industries of technology, travel and tourism, logistics and transport, education and construction.

Mehra said Chinese companies are already leaders in a lot of different technologies like blockchain, artificial intelligence to the internet of things, all of which fit into the agenda of District 2020.

And potential investees are not just confined to the technology circle but a broader portfolio of companies in the hospitality, tourism and real estate sectors.

“Because the zone is not only a technology hub but … where technology collaborates with enterprise,” she said. “So if a typical tourism company benefits from the technology, it allows the technology to scale much faster.”

Apart from incentives like the provision of digital infrastructure and preferential policies like zero corporate and personal tax, District 2020 has an entrepreneur program dubbed Scale2Dubai, aiming to draw startups and small-and medium-sized enterprises to upscale and enter the Middle East and North Africa markets.

“Successful applicants of the program will benefit from free business setup, two years subsidized urban living, a two-year entrepreneur visa, and two years free workspace,” she said.

Earlier this year, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice-president and prime minister of the UAE, reiterated the country’s support for Belt and Road Initiative with the announcement of a $3.4 billion Chinese investment in Dubai.

Some Chinese technology powerhouses have entered the nation. For instance, Huawei Technologies has launched over 100 initiatives and deployed over 1,000 smart devices in less than three years to facilitate the Smart Dubai 2021 initiative.

Fliggy, the tourism arm of Alibaba, signed a memorandum of understanding with Dubai’s tourism agency to enhance travel experiences for Chinese travelers, while gaming giant Tencent chose Dubai Internet City as its regional headquarters in June.

The Belt and Road Initiative guarantees further access to what is now the world’s second-largest economy. In return, Chinese businesses in the UAE gain an important platform from which they can access vast emerging markets in the Gulf region, according to Simon Pluckrose, a Dubai-based director at consultancy firm Brunswick.

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