UAE And China Eye Military Cooperation With J-20 (Literally) In The Background

UAE And China Looking To Increase Military Cooperation
A photo from the meeting with the J-20 painting visible in the background. (Photo: UAE MoD)

The two countries are actively discussing the possibility of increasing their military collaboration. Interestingly, the photos shared by the UAE MoD after the visit to China show a painting with two J-20 Mighty Dragon fighters predominantly featured during the meeting.

A delegation of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Armed Forces is currently visiting the People’s Republic of China, where the UAE’s Commander of Joint Operations, Major General Saleh Mohammed bin Majren Al Ameri, met with the Commander of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force, General Chang Dingqiu.

According to a brief statement of the UAE’s Ministry of Defense, the meeting focused on a range of topics concerning mutual cooperation and joint military efforts between the two nations, exploring ways to enhance and develop these areas. A number of high-ranking officers and officials from both countries’ defense ministries were also in the attendance.

The UAE are increasingly looking to China for the defense sector in the last few years. For instance, last year the UAE government signed a deal with Chinese aircraft manufacturer Hongdu to buy 12 L-15A advanced jet trainers. Nine months later, the first batch of the Chinese aircraft have arrived in the country and took part to the Dubai Air Show.

Also, last year the UAE Air Force was invited to take part in the joint exercise “Falcon Shield 2023” that took place in China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. While both countries have been tight-lipped about the event, it is rumored that the UAE indeed accepted the invite and participated with both the F-16 Block 60 and the Mirage 2000-9.

Back to the visit in China, interestingly, the photos shared by the UAE MoD show a painting with two J-20s predominantly featured during the meeting. While this could just be a mere coincidence (the Mighty Dragon is the most advanced fighter in service in China, so it is normal for it to be present on the walls of Chinese meeting rooms in the form of blow-ups, paintings, etc.), the presence of the J-20 in the background of the meeting adds intrigue to the cooperation as it could signal various possibilities, including potential discussions regarding the stealth aircraft.

UAE And China Looking To Increase Military Cooperation
Another photo from the meeting with the Mighty Dragon painting in the background. (Photo: UAE MoD)

Potential F-35 sale to UAE

The UAE have been involved in negotiation with the United States to acquire the F-35 Lightning II and the MQ-9 Reaper for several years. However, the talks about the deal, worth up to USD 23.3 billion, hit some speed bumps over the years, even though officials, in 2023, said it was not completely dead yet.

As you may already know, the United States under then Trump administration agreed to sell 50 F-35s to the UAE, but the deal was slowed down amid concerns about the country’s relations with China and the use of Huawei 5G systems. The Biden administration confirmed in 2021 that it will proceed with the sale during the ongoing consultation with UAE’s officials.

The UAE also notified the Pentagon in 2021 it might abandon the deal, withdrawing the letters of offer and acceptance for both aircraft types. The Commander of the UAE Air Force, however, said the F-35 deal was not in danger because of the Rafale, as the latter was acquired as a complementary deal and not as an alternative.

At the moment, it’s still too early to say the UAE will end up acquiring the J-20 from China, considering the type would be difficult to integrate with other assets even within the UAE Air Force. In that respect, the talks with China, with the J-20 (literally) in the background, could also be a way to put pressure on the United States over the stalled F-35 deal.

However, considering the regional crisis among other geopolitical reasons, Arab countries represent a good market opportunity for China, that already has both good relations with all the countries in the region and the ambition to become the main supplier of combat aircraft and drones in the Middle East.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.
About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.