[OUTLOOK]Dubai hub of new Middle East age

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[OUTLOOK]Dubai hub of new Middle East age

I left on a two-week reporting trip for the first time in a long time. The journey started at Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and went through countries like Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, focusing on countries on the shore of the Caspian Sea, which has now become a core strategic region of the energy war.
But perhaps I was overly ignorant ― I was totally shocked at the first stop, Dubai. It was as if we were in the middle of a mirage.
I kept on saying, “Oh my God! How could this happen?” For the full four days I stayed in Dubai, I went around shocked because I was definitely in a desert, but all the things that seemed like a mirage were real.
No matter how much overflowing oil money one has thanks to the sudden rise in oil prices, no person in his right mind could possibly believe the things that had happened occurred in the middle of a desert. Not only was the world’s tallest building of 800 meters being built, but sand from the seabed was being dug up to make numerous fantastic artificial resorts, as if forming them from a mould.
What is more, the resorts were all either already paid for or sold out. They say it is almost impossible to reserve even the cheapest room at the famous Burj al Arab hotel, which costs $1,500 per night (the most expensive is $15,000 per night). A hotel that was built in the middle of the desert costs $1,000 per night, but reservations are already full for the winter season.
The locals make artificial ports half the size of Busan port seemingly at the touch of a wand as if it were no big deal, and an indoor ski resort is also expected to open soon.
“Rash” things that can’t be explained by logic were happening all over the place, and were also all going according to plan, making my jaw drop. I nodded automatically at the comment that 10 percent of the world’s cranes were in Dubai.
No business corporations or individuals pay tax and Dubai has no source of revenue from oil, so where do they get the money for all this?
The United Arab Emirates is the world’s second-biggest oil producing country, but most oil production takes place in the Abu Dhabi region. Dubai has hardly any oil. But Dubai made this their focus for survival.
They planned to make money off the people rich in oil, since they do not have any themselves. Therefore, they put all they had into making and promoting infrastructures so the world’s greatest oil powers could come, spend and enjoy their money in a safe environment.
The great leader Sheikh Mohammed committed everyone’s imagination to how they could lure their oil-rich neighbors to come and spend their money. The single sentence slogan, “Our only limit is our imagination,” is an expression of Dubai’s confidence that they will try everything imaginable.
I think luck is with them too. After all, not only did oil prices start to rise, but the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States also played an important role in making money flow to Dubai.
The truth is that Arab funds in the United States flowed into Dubai, because Arabs in the United States felt uneasy and Dubai was considered a safer place, and this helped to push not only oil money from the United States but from all over the world to Dubai.
With world class financial services, no taxes and no nagging from the government because of various free localization policies, there is no better place than Dubai for foreign companies and wealthy individuals. That is why they are fighting to get there first. On top of that, the new oil-rich barons of Russia are also joining in. They are depositing money that they cannot spend freely in their own country in Dubai banks, and spending it there.
I asked a bank clerk, “Is there no terrorism by Al-Qaeda here?” The man answered, “I heard that even they deposit military funds and manage their finances here.”
If that is true, then Dubai is providing the best financial and overall infrastructure, even to terrorists. Thus, it is no exaggeration when the local people boast of creating a place safer and more comfortable than Switzerland for the world’s richest people. I could not help but feel that Dubai is truly the hub of a new age in the Middle East.

* The writer is the CEO of the JoongAng Ilbo News Magazine. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Chang-kyu
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