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Prince William visits UAE as Britain seeks to deepen ties

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Britain's Prince William speaks with Chairman of Abu Dhabi Executive Office Sheikh Khalid bin Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan as he visits wetlands at the Jubail Mangrove Park, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. [Reuters]

Prince William, second in line to the British throne, began on Thursday a visit to the United Arab Emirates at a time when the former British protectorate has faced an unprecedented though mostly foiled string of missile and drone attacks.

Kensington Palace said it was the Duke of Cambridge's first official visit to the UAE. Six of its emirates ceased being British protectorates 50 years ago when they joined in a federation. The seventh joined in 1972.

The visit, at the request of Britain's foreign office, comes as it is seeking to deepen trade ties with wealthy Gulf Arab states as part of its post-Brexit strategy.

William will visit the Expo 2020 world fair being hosted by Dubai and also promote his environmental award, The Earthshot Prize, and highlight the United for Wildlife campaign which counters the illegal wildlife trade.

"Excited to be arriving in Dubai to celebrate the UK at @DubaiExpo and discuss the vital issue of working together with the UAE and international partners to achieve a more sustainable world," William wrote on Twitter.

Oil-rich UAE last year pledged to invest 10 billion pounds in Britain and has said it wants a free trade pact with it.

But as Britain seeks to engage globally after Brexit, opposition lawmakers and campaigners have criticised the government for prioritising business over human rights concerns.

Britain condemned a Jan. 17 drone and missile strike that killed three civilians in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi and was claimed by Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthis, who the UAE is fighting as part of a Saudi Arabia-led military coalition.

The UAE has said two other air attacks by the Houthis and a fourth claimed by another, shadowy group were intercepted without casualties.

While the British monarch has few practical powers and is expected to be non-partisan, it gives Britain a degree of "soft" power in global, diplomatic relations.

Prince Charles, William's father and first in line to the throne, has visited the Gulf many times and developed strong links with the region.