Saudi Arabia targets expanded relations with Hong Kong as gateway to China’s premier digital expertise

As part of an ambitious drive to transform its economy under the Vision 2030 economic plan, Saudi Arabia is set to intensify its relations with Hong Kong, viewing the city as a bridge to the ‘world-class’ digital prowess of mainland China. The minister responsible for the Kingdom’s digital infrastructure, Abdullah Al-Swaha, unveiled these plans.

The Minister of Communications and Information Technology in Saudi Arabia pointed out areas of mutual interest with Hong Kong that include fintech, technological entrepreneurship and strategies to draw venture capitalist investment. Al-Swaha expressed interest in partnering on aspects such as health sciences, biotechnology, environmental issues, cloud computing, generative artificial intelligence (AI), and the development of smart cities.

Commenting on the future prospects, Al-Swaha noted, “Both Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong are going through very promising transformations, being financial hubs in their respective regions. We have a unique chance to build an innovation bridge, enabling us to leapfrog into the future with an innovation-based economy.”

Al-Swaha, who has been the Minister since 2017, chose Hong Kong as the first stop on his extensive tour through China, where the exponential growth and dissemination of information and communication technology (ICT) have left a remarkable impression on him. ICT progression necessitates robust digital infrastructure, such as 5G networks, which Saudi Arabia is eager to acquire from Chinese companies despite the current US sanctions on firms like Huawei Technologies and ZTE.

“Saudi Arabia is pro-partnership and pro-openness,” said the Minister, stressing the Kingdom’s willingness to collaborate with any entity that can meet its security and regulatory prerequisites. He is set to visit the Shenzhen-based tech giant, Huawei, after Hong Kong.

Saudi Arabia is eager to learn from and build partnerships with the “world-class” transformation of ICT in mainland China and Hong Kong. Chief Executive of Hong Kong, John Lee Ka-chiu, highlighted the city’s plan to bolster relations with Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. A Belt and Road Summit, including a dedicated Middle East session, is planned in Hong Kong in September.

Encouraged by the warming of China-Middle East relations, private-sector entrepreneurs are capitalising on these opportunities. Following a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Riyadh in December 2022, the Saudi Arabia-China Entrepreneurs Association plans to set up its headquarters in Hong Kong.

Al-Swaha, an electrical engineer by training, is also tasked with cultivating Saudi Arabia’s digital workforce and talent infrastructure. He recognised China as a key partner in skilling and upskilling the Kingdom’s burgeoning technology workforce of 340,000, aiming to double this number in the next five years.

Saudi Arabia aims to harmonise its Vision 2030 with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, aligning development strategies and digital talent cooperation. In turn, Saudi Arabia continues to invest in Chinese stocks listed on the Nasdaq and in Hong Kong, bolstering the symbiotic relationship between these two economic powerhouses.

Image Credit: ITU/P.Barrera