UK proud partner for Kuwait

IT IS with a great sense of honour that I will be accompanying His Highness the Amir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber during his State Visit to the UK this week. The destinies of the UK and Kuwait have been entwined since the first British ship dropped its anchor in Kuwait bay in the mid eighteenth century. Our long shared history has seen UK forces coming to the defence of Kuwait both beofe and after the country’s independence. And His Highness will be laying a wreath at Westminster Abbey to honour those British servicemen who gave thier lives during the libeation of Kuwait.

But however deeply the historic foundations are set, however impressive and scenses and protocol that will greet the Amir’s arrrival, these are not the real reasons why the relationship between the United Kingdom and Kuwait is as strong as it is today. The realreason is the Impressive edifice of shared endeavour that has been built on these solid foundations of mutual respect and common values. And this can be seen right across the bilateral relationship.

Politically, the UK and Kuwait remain close partners, cooperating together in an attempt to secure stability in a difficult and ever-changing region. And Kuwait, despite recent political difficulties, shares much with the UK in its notions of how politics should be conducted; freedom of speech is an integral part of Kuwaiti culture, its democratically elected parliament is the most vocal in the region, and since independence its trajectory has been show yet purposeful, reforming not revolutionary. It is a trajectory that leads in the fullness of time to a state that combines modern political ideals with tradition, respect and an understanding of the past — a state, indeed, much like the UK.

However bilateral relations in the modern era are not just about governments. In a world where a tweet can go travel the world in a matter of seconds, bilateral relations are about people as much as they are about Kings, Queens, Amirs, Ministers or diplomats.
We can see that quite clearly in trade and investment. The links between Kuwait and the UK are strong and growing, but although government can help. It is individuals and business who really deliver the benefits to their nations. Individuals like the inspirational Mohammed Alshaya, who from Kuwait, has created a retailing and franchising empire that spans the globe, with British brands at its core, creating jobs and wealth in Kuwait, the UK and further afield.

The same can be said of the Kuwaiti Investment Authority and the Kuwait Investment Office — celebrating its sixtieth anniversary this year — whose unrivalled ability to invest wisely provided Kuwait with the cushion it needed to survive its invasion, and continues to help secure the future for coming generations of Kuwaitis. But even as it has diversified amidst a changing world, its investment destination of choice is, and will continue to be, the UK; creating possibilities and opportunities for Brits just as for Kuwaitis.
These are just two examples, countless more abound; the British companies working to help deliver infrastructure for Kuwait’s ambitious National Development Plan, using the same zeal and skill with which London’s Olympic Park was summoned from a blighted East London brown-field site; the Kuwaiti banks taking advantage of the City of London’s position as the world centre for Islamic finance; the recently announced £500 million of Kuwaiti investment in British North Sea Oil.

Beyond business, individuals throughout Kuwait and the UK travel between their respective countries, reaching hearts and minds, gaining understanding, expanding their horizons. Six thousand Brits live and work in Kuwait. Thousands of young Kuwaitis come to the UK every year to study, taking advantage of world class universities and making friendships and memories they will treasure forever. Kuwaiti servicemen come to study at the great centres of British military prowess, such as Sandhurst — 200 years old this year; whilst British servicemen continue to live and work in Kuwait, as partners and advisors to the Kuwaiti military, reflecting a defence relationship forged in friendship and strengthened on the battlefield. Culturally too links are strong — this year saw the biggest exhibition of British art ever in Kuwait, and a return exhibition featuring works by young Kuwaiti artists will open in London later this year. And in the sporting field too, where every Kuwaiti has a favourite English soccer team and where the Al Haswai family have recently purchased Nottingham Forest.

So when I look back on the pomp, ceremony and grandeur of what is bound to be a memorable State Visit, whilst I will certainly remember the scene set and the business done, I will also remember what lies behind all this; two peoples brought together by history, bound together by friendship, and building the future together based on common interests and common values. Interests and values that extend not just to His Highness and Her Majesty, but to those individuals within both our countries who have — as I have — found themselves acting as Ambassadors, with their hearts in both the UK and Kuwait.

By: Frank Baker - British Ambassador to Kuwait

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