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. Its 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 employees 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," he said of the increased Chinese customers.
Perhaps nowhere are the flourishing China-Gulf links more evident than in the serpentine halls of Dubai's DragonMart. Described as the largest dedicated trading center for Chinese projects outside China, the ¾ mile (1.2 kilometer-long) mall houses nearly 4,000 shops selling an impossibly diverse range of products — from clothing and electronics to plaques inscribed with Quranic verses. One shop even sells forklifts.
Moneychangers and ATMs abound, though merchants like Mohammed Alamgir, a salesman at a Chinese-owned store selling industrial-strength air compressors from Shanghai, say they are happy to take just about any currency. Many of his customers travel from as far as South Africa and Libya. They often buy in bulk for resale back home, he said.
Not far away, Bangladeshi tailors sit hunched over a row of sewing machines at Feilong Trading, stitching curtains made to customers' orders.
Jiamin Xia, the store's manager, said products are fast to move — "cargo easy come, easy go," he quips — and the opportunities are better than back home in Guangzhou.
"Here you have many customers, and they are very good" he said. "They have much money."
From Iran's point of view, China remains a crucial business partner.
Bilateral trade is on the rise, with everything from cheap made-in-China clothes to sport-utility vehicles pouring in. 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. Tehran needs outside expertise to unlock the oil because its petroleum industry has been weakened by decades of U.S.-led sanctions.
China's stance on Iran is hardly based on altruism, however. 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. "Iran has suddenly been forced to rely on a very, very small number" of oil customers, he added.
AP Business Writer Joe McDonald and researcher Yu Bing in Beijing, and reporter Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.
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