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China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock Corp. won a contract in September to build 240 freight cars for the UAE’s new national train network.

The Qatar Investment Authority pumped $2.8 billion into Agricultural Bank of China’s 2010 initial public offering, while the Kuwait Investment Authority bought in for $800 million.

The Kuwait sovereign wealth fund has also snapped up stakes in the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China and government-backed brokerage Citic Securities Co. In October, Kuwait opened a representative office in Beijing, its first overseas outpost in nearly six decades.

Chinese visitors, meanwhile, are flooding through the Arab side of the Gulf.

Dubai’s Emirates airline now flies 35 times a week to mainland China. It employs 350 Chinese staff and offers Chinese food and movies on some flights, said Richard Jewsbury, senior vice president for commercial operations in the Far East. The airline’s smaller Gulf rivals are adding China routes too.

Colm McLoughlin, executive vice chairman of Dubai’s massive airport duty-free operation, said his best-sellers are not locally produced dates or camel-milk chocolates, but cartons of Chinese-made Chunghwa cigarettes. Sales of the smokes brought in $8.5 million last year and more than $1 million just in January.

Dubai Duty Free is responding by doubling to more than 400 the number of Chinese staff it employs. Other workers are being issued Mandarin phrase books, and cashiers now accept Chinese currency and credit cards.

“We would be silly if we didn’t take advantage of it and try to serve them,” Mr. McLoughlin said of the increased Chinese customers.

From Iran’s point of view, China remains a crucial business partner. Bilateral trade is on the rise, and Iranian newspapers are full of ads touting business tours and pleasure trips to Chinese cities.

Chinese companies have rights to develop the prized Azadegan and Yadavaran fields, two of the most promising Iranian oil finds in decades.

With Iranian oil exports under pressure from tightening U.S. sanctions and a new European Union embargo, China could be looking to lock in cheaper fuel prices as Iran tries to find a home for its crude.

“Clearly they see an opportunity to put pressure on Iran. They know Iran’s hands are tied, so why shouldn’t they benefit from this?” said Samuel Ciszuk, a consultant at KBC Energy Economics.