UAE is a dynamic place

UAE is a dynamic place Amanda Fisher ( / 10 June 2013 In the first in a series of fortnightly interviews with ambassadors from around the world stationed in the UAE, Khaleej Times speaks with Australian Ambassador Pablo Kang about the challenges of office, the Qantas-Emirates tie-up and the struggle to learn Arabic What is your background? I did a combined arts and law degree at the University of Sydney. In my second to last year I realised I wasn’t cut out to be a lawyer — the only area I did find interesting was public international law. My lecturer had a lot to do with our foreign service and he came to the lecture one day and said the foreign office was interviewing for its graduate programme. I didn’t really know what it was, so I thought I’d give it a go and I got in. In which other countries and in what capacity have you previously worked? I worked for a couple of years in Australia and then I got assigned to London on my first overseas post, where I spent a few years. I came back and worked in Canberra in the Prime Minister’s office, advising in the International Division, before taking up the Deputy Ambassador role in Manila and then being promoted to High Commissioner in Vanuatu. I went back to Canberra for one year before I took up this post. How long have you been in the UAE? For a year and a half. It’s completely different to my other postings. The Philippines was a very big developing country and Vanuatu was a very small developing country and the UAE, I don’t think qualifies as a developing country. In the entire country of Vanuatu there is no traffic lights or shopping malls. Are you here with your family? If so, tell us about them. I’m living here with my wife and five-year-old son. My son is used to moving, when we moved here he was three-years-old and this is the fourth country he has lived in. My wife is very busy. She used to be in event management, but now her time is taken up running the house. What do you think are the successes of the UAE in its relationship with Australia? The UAE is a very dynamic place and one that’s changing all the time. What I really like about it is the drive to diversify the country and not rely on oil, but new industries like tourism and aviation. There are real areas for cooperation, for example with the four-year-old Etihad Rail Project, in terms of how both countries are developing rail in very hot, arid countries. There have been a lot of decisions and meetings about rail, particularly relating to training, with Australians likely to come and train workers here. The whole aviation story here has been such a successful one, and you can see that in the partnership between our airlines, with the Qantas and Emirates tie-up and Etihad owning 10 per cent of Virgin Australia. I think that’s a recognition of the success of Emirates and Etihad in a very short period of time. The dynamics of global aviation are changing and the Gulf carriers are certainly rising. We want to get more investment from the country and the Gulf region into Australia, which we think is an attractive destination. What do you think are the challenges faced by the UAE? Certainly the challenges for the region are obvious in terms of the arc of instability that surrounds the Gulf. The major challenge at the moment is what will happen in the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Syria, as the number of people being killed continue to rise, with so many different groups now fighting. I think there’s a real issue with the role of particular parties, with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood as a real political force. There’s quite a bit concern about this development and what it means for the Gulf states. Egypt is a major world power so how that political process is handled is important, and of course Iran is an ongoing concern with its nuclear programme and what that means for the balance of power in the Middle East. The UAE and Qatar are havens and we are seeing an increase in the number of people from Saudi who are coming here, whereas in the past they may have travelled to other countries such as Egypt or Syria. Do you think the unrest in the Middle East will damage the way most Australians view this country? The facts don’t show that at the moment. I think people do differentiate the UAE from Syria and we have one of the highest per capita intakes of refugees, second only behind the United States. We have 20,000 refugees enter our shores each year, and Syria refugees are some of a number that we’d look to let in. Arabic is the fifth most widely spoken language in Australia and we have 400,000 Muslims in the country, which is the second fastest growing religion. What is the stance on visa requirements for Emiratis? Every foreign national needs a visa to go to Australia. Every now and then we get approached by some country saying ‘Can we get visa-free status’, but the answer is ‘No, sorry, it’s enshrined in legislation’. In most cases, Emiratis can apply online for a visa which they receive in about eight hours. There are discussions from time to time to further streamline the system. What is your favourite pastime in the UAE? If I’m not working, I’m playing with my son — which can be relaxing or testing. I’m also learning Arabic but my problem is I don’t do it on a regular enough basis. I have studied Mandarin and Japanese and Korean, but this is much harder. The Australian Foreign service actually ranks languages by how hard they are for native English speakers, and the five hardest are Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean and Arabic – they give two years’ full time learning these languages to get to a working level proficiency, whereas the main language of Vanuatu, Bislama, took me six weeks. My son’s learning Arabic and he possibly speaks more than me. Where is your favourite destination in the UAE? My favourite place is the Qasr Al Sarab resort in Liwa, which is just 30 kilometres from the Saudi border. It sits in the middle of these amazing sand dunes and it’s a fantastic place. Interview in abridged form   Taylor Scott International

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