Saudi tour guides shine at NEOM’s The Line exhibition

The Line follows a human-first approach with health and well-being prioritized over transportation and infrastructure. (Supplied)
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Updated 12 August 2022

Saudi tour guides shine at NEOM’s The Line exhibition

  • Details of NEOM project on full display at the exhibition
  • About 49 tours are organised per day, allowing visitors to grasp the scope and complexity of the project’s designs

JEDDAH: An exhibition exploring Saudi Arabia’s ambitious The Line project is leaving visitors enthralled thanks to the work of specialist tour guides.

The details of the NEOM project are on full display at the exhibition, hosted at the Jeddah Superdome. Visitors of all age groups will get first-hand insights with the help of the Saudi tour guides, who explain visual displays in both Arabic and English.

The guides are bringing the exhibition to life with about 49 tours per day, allowing visitors to grasp the scope and complexity of the project’s designs, architectural concepts and engineering capabilities.  

Speaking to Arab News, several tour guides expressed their enthusiasm at taking part in the exhibition and playing a small but important role in NEOM. 

One of the guides, Ragad Seit, said: “The experience is beyond wonderful. I love the excitement on the people’s faces while we explain the details of The Line. It is amazing to see the excitement they have for this revolutionary project and watching that makes me feel that it’s worth being a part of this exhibition. I am sure this will be a great movement for the future and we can’t wait to see the completion of The Line.”

Another young guide, Ghalya Faisal Alsahhaf, said: “My job here is to explain the unique and rare NEOM flora that will be grown in The Line. The experience is definitely one of a kind where I get to educate people on the vegetation aspect.

“The look on the people when they learn about the different kinds of flora is incredible. Also, I get to meet people from different cultures and backgrounds where I interact with them about the exhibition, and have discussions. The enthusiasm of the visitors is unimaginable.”

Abdulaziz Salmin said: “Although I am here as a tour guide, I am very proud to be a part of NEOM and work on this project.

“I work on sections one and two where I explain to the people what The Line is all about. The thrill and anticipation that the public show is very similar to my excitement. I am eagerly waiting to see how the city will turn out, especially after learning a lot more about it through this exhibition,” Salmin added.

Apart from tour guides, NEOM officials are also present at the exhibition to assist those looking for in-depth answers. 

The Jeddah exhibition opens its doors from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. until Aug. 14, before moving to the Eastern Province and then staying in Riyadh.

“I learned about the project for the first time on social media and I was so excited to get my own first impression of the revolutionary model of The Line. I’m so excited to see this in reality,” Mohammad Ali, a visitor, said.

“Besides, we now understand more about the project with the help of the tour guides. It’s true that they can take the visitors on a whole different journey,” he added.

Another visitor, Raees Ali, said: “The tour guide turned my experience into a most pleasurable one by answering my questions and providing the information available in a clear and simple way.

“The project definitely looks futuristic and promising. After the tour, I did have many technical questions in my mind, but I am certain that they will be answered in the coming days. Hopefully, I would really like to relocate to this dreamy place.”

Saed H. was awestruck at The Line’s designs on display at the exhibition and is excited to see how the city will look after construction. 

“It is definitely a good idea to have a guide who gives some interesting details. I was surprised to learn about the football stadium in the city which will be embedded in a way where the city itself will turn towards the stadium and become the venue. All these details are so mind-blowing that the visitors were awe-inspired by this dreamy world. We really look forward to seeing it come to life,” said Saed.

Divided into different sections, the displays at the exhibition detail urban living plans being implemented in the city. The Line follows a human-first approach with health and well-being prioritized over transportation and infrastructure.

Free tickets can be booked through the Hala Yalla application for events.


Pakistani experts hope for more investment in CPEC project as Xi arrives in Riyadh

Updated 12 sec ago

Pakistani experts hope for more investment in CPEC project as Xi arrives in Riyadh

  • In 2018, Pakistan’s then ruling party announced Riyadh’s willingness to be part of CPEC as “strategic partner”
  • Experts say CPEC could be a “great convergence point” between Pakistan, China and Saudi Arabia

ISLAMABAD: Former ambassadors to Beijing and international experts said on Wednesday Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Saudi Arabia this week was likely to bring in more investment into the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project.

Xi arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday for a three-day visit that China has hailed as its largest ever diplomatic foray into the Arab world. The visit comes at a time when Riyadh is seeking to expand global alliances beyond its longstanding partnership with the West.

During the visit, Xi is scheduled to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other heads of states from Gulf Arab states. Saudi Arabia and China are expected to sign over 20 agreements worth more than $29.3 billion and will discuss a plan to harmonize the implementation of Saudi’s Vision 2030 and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Xi’s signature infrastructure investment initiative that includes CPEC.

Under the CPEC project, China has pledged over $60 billion in energy, infrastructure, agriculture, IT and various other schemes in Pakistan. At the heart of the project is a Chinese-funded deep-water port in Pakistan’s southwestern town of Gwadar in Balochistan province.

The CPEC project, Pakistani experts hope, would figure in Xi’s meetings with the Saudi crown prince. In 2018, after then Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Riyadh and meetings with the crown prince, the premier’s ruling party had announced Riyadh’s willingness to be a part of CPEC as a “third strategic partner.”

“Saudi Arabia is interested in becoming part of CPEC by investing heavily in it and is also interested in BRI,” Pakistan’s former ambassador to China, Naghmana Hashmi, told Arab News.

“This visit will improve things in this regard as China is the main initiator of both mega projects.”

“The growing friendship between China and Saudi Arabia will benefit Pakistan as the country has very good relations with both, and both are pillars of strength for us,” Hashmi added.

International relations expert Zafar Jaspal told Arab News the visit would have a “constructive and positive impact” on CPEC.

“[The visit] will open the way for Saudi investment in Gwadar and other parts of the [CPEC] project, especially in the petro industry as the kingdom’s leadership has expressed in the past,” Jaspal said.

International affairs expert Dr. Huma Baqai said an improved relationship between China and Saudi Arabia would help Pakistan “sustain Western pressure.”

“If inroads are made by China into Saudi Arabia, this will help Pakistan in every aspect as the country is squeezed by Western powers and their institutions and this squeeze will ease if there is a better relationship between two friends of Pakistan,” she told Arab News.

CPEC, Baqai said, could be a “great convergence point” between the three countries and “give the requisite push and momentum to intended Saudi investment in the flagship project of the BRI.”

Former ambassador Javed Hafeez, experienced in Middle East affairs, said Saudi Arabia was diversifying its international relations and trying to improve relations with all powers, including China, Russia, the US and other Western countries.

“This policy is exactly the same as Pakistan is following,” he said, “so it is good for us as well and the prospects of expansion of CPEC will also increase.”


President Xi’s 3-day visit aims to boost Saudi-Chinese diplomatic, trade ties

Updated 07 December 2022

President Xi’s 3-day visit aims to boost Saudi-Chinese diplomatic, trade ties

  • Saudi-Chinese Summit, Riyadh Gulf-China Summit and Riyadh Arab-China Summit to take place during visit
  • More than 20 initial agreements between the two countries worth over $29.3 billion to be signed during visit

RIYADH: Chinese President Xi Jinping is due to arrive in the Kingdom on Wednesday for a three-day visit during which he will meet Saudi and Arab leaders.

Three summits will take place during his trip: the Saudi-Chinese Summit, the Riyadh Gulf-China Summit for Cooperation and Development, and the Riyadh Arab-China Summit for Cooperation and Development. The participants will include more than 30 leaders and officials from the two countries and international organizations, highlighting the importance of the gatherings and their high regional and international profile, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Xi’s visit reflects the desire of the leaderships of Saudi Arabia and China to strengthen the bilateral relationship, enhance their strategic partnership and realize the political and economic potential it offers to serve their common interests, the SPA added.

More than 20 initial agreements between the two countries, worth more than SR110 billion ($29.3 billion), will be signed during the presidential visit, along with a strategic partnership deal, and a plan to harmonize the implementation of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 development and diversification project with China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the agency said.

Saudi Arabia aims to build a strong strategic partnership with China to support trade and investment. The Kingdom was the biggest recipient of Chinese investment in the Arab World between 2005 and 2020, accounting for more than 20.3 percent of the total regional investment, worth $196.9 billion.

The two countries are preparing to launch the SABIC-Fujian Petrochemical Industrial Group, a joint venture worth an estimated SR22.5 billion, in which SABIC has a 51 percent stake, that includes a high-capacity plant for the production of petrochemical products.

Beyond trade and investment, relations between the two countries have also continued to expand and develop more broadly in recent years, particularly in terms of cultural exchanges.

In 2019, for example, the Saudi Ministry of Culture announced the establishment of the Prince Mohammed bin Salman Award for Cultural Cooperation between Saudi Arabia and China, which will be officially launched during President Xi’s visit. It aims to promote the Arabic language, along with Arab arts, mutual understanding and cultural exchanges, reflecting the Kingdom’s desire to further enhance the cultural aspects of relations.

A number of Saudi universities and schools offer classes in the Chinese language, while Arabic is taught in 44 Chinese universities.


Factbox: Saudi-China energy, trade and investment ties

Updated 07 December 2022

Factbox: Saudi-China energy, trade and investment ties

  • Chinese delegation is expected to sign dozens of agreements with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states
  • China is Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade worth $87.3 billion in 2021

Saudi Arabia will host a China-Arab summit on Dec. 9 attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping, with the leaders of the two countries expected to discuss trade ties and regional security.

Xi’s visit comes at a time when US-Saudi ties are at a nadir, uncertainty weighs on global energy markets with the West imposing a price cap on Russian oil and as Washington warily eyes China’s growing influence in the Middle East.

The Chinese delegation is expected to sign dozens of agreements with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states covering energy, security and investments, diplomats have told Reuters.

Below are some details about oil, trade and security relations between China and Saudi Arabia.

OIL TRADE

China is Saudi Arabia’s largest trading partner, with bilateral trade worth $87.3 billion in 2021. Chinese exports to Saudi Arabia reached $30.3 billion, while China’s imports from the kingdom totalled $57 billion.

Saudi Arabia is China’s top oil supplier, making up 18 percent of China’s total crude oil purchases, with imports totalling 73.54 million tons (1.77 million barrels a day) in the first 10 months of 2022, worth $55.5 billion, Chinese customs data shows.

Oil imports last year amounted to 87.56 million tons, worth $43.9 billion, making up 77 percent of China’s total merchandise imports from Saudi Arabia.

State-run Saudi Aramco has annual supply deals with half a dozen Chinese refiners including Sinopec, CNPC, CNOOC, Sinochem, Norinco as well as private refiner Zhejiang Petrochemical Corp.

REFINERIES

Aramco in early 2022 made a final investment decision to build a $10 billion refinery, petrochemical complex in northeast China, marking its single largest investment in China.

Named Huajin Aramco Petrochemical Company, the joint venture groups Aramco, Huajin Chemical Industries Group Corporation (000059.SZ) — a unit of defense conglomerate Norinco-- and Panjin Xincheng Industrial Group.

The project, expected to be operational in 2024, combines a 300,000-bpd refinery and 1.5 million tons per year ethylene plant, with Aramco set to supply up to 210,000 bpd crude oil.

Aramco’s only other similar investment in China is a 25 percent stake in Refining and Petrochemical Company Ltd. in Fujian province controlled by state refining giant Sinopec Corp. , which began in 2008 operating a 280,000 bpd refinery and a 1.1 million ton per year (tpy) ethylene complex.

Aramco in October of 2018 signed a memorandum of understanding with Zhejiang provincial government to invest 9 percent in Zhejiang Petrochemical Corp. that operates China’s single-largest refinery of 800,000 bpd. No further progress has been announced since.

Similarly, Sinopec owns 37.5 percent in Yanbu Aramco Sinopec Refining Co. (YASREF), a JV with Aramco that operates a 400,000-bpd refinery in Yanbu on the Red Sea coast.

FINANCIAL

China’s state-owned Silk Road Fund is part of a consortium led by US-based EIG Global Energy Partners that in mid-2021 closed a deal to buy 49 percent of Saudi Aramco’s oil pipelines business for $12.4 billion.

Silk Road is also part of a consortium led by BlackRock Real Assets and Hassana Investment Company that announced in February completion of a 49 percent stake acquisition in Aramco Gas Pipelines Company for $15.5 billion.

POWER

Saudi utility developer ACWA Power, partly owned by the Saudi sovereign wealth fund, said in September that it agreed with Silk Road Fund to jointly invest in a 1.5 gigawatt (GW) gas-fueled power plant in Uzbekistan for $1 billion, part of Beijing’s One Belt One Road initiative.

State-run China Energy Engineering Corp. (CEEC) is building a 2.6-GW solar power station in Al Shuaiba in Saudi Arabia, also owned by ACWA Power, the Middle East’s largest solar project.

MILITARY, SECURITY

Saudi Advanced Communications and Electronics Systems Co. (ACES) signed a deal with China Electronics Technology Group to manufacture unmanned aerial vehicle payload systems in the kingdom, Saudi English-language newspapers Arab News and Saudi Gazette reported in March.

The UAE in February said it plans to order 12 L-15 light attack planes from China with the option of purchasing 36 more.


China's Xi visiting Saudi Arabia for three days amid bid to boost economy

Updated 07 December 2022

China's Xi visiting Saudi Arabia for three days amid bid to boost economy

  • China's economic growth has been on a decline and was dealt a major blow by rolling lockdowns due to COVID-19
  • Xi will attend the inaugural China-Arab States Summit and a meeting with leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council

BEIJING: Chinese leader Xi Jinping is attending a pair of regional summits in Saudi Arabia this week amid efforts to kick-start economic growth weighed down by strict anti-COVID-19 measures.

The Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that Xi will attend the inaugural China-Arab States Summit and a meeting with leaders of the six nations that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council in the Saudi capital of Riyadh. His state visit to Saudi Arabia will end on Saturday.

China is the world’s second largest economy and a major source of outward investment. To fuel massive demand, it imports half its oil, of which half of those imports come from Saudi Arabia, amounting to tens of billions of dollars annually.

China's economic growth had been on a steady decline for years and was dealt a major blow by rolling lockdowns imposed across the country as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chinese economic growth rebounded to 3.9% over a year earlier in the three months ending in September, up from the first half of the year's 2.2%, but still well short of the government target.

China’s COVID-19 infection numbers are lower than those of the United States and other major countries. But the ruling party is sticking to “zero-COVID,” which calls for isolating every case, while other governments are relaxing travel and other controls and trying to live with the virus.

China's ruling Communist Party shares many of the authoritarian tendencies of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, shielding Beijing from criticism over its harsh policies toward Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. More than a million have been sent to detention centers where they report being forced to denounce Islam and swear fealty to Xi and the party.

Beijing denies the charges, saying they have been providing job training and ridding Muslims of extremist, separatist and terroristic tendencies.

The trip to Saudi Arabia marks a further move by Xi to restore his global profile after spending most of the pandemic inside China. Xi was granted a third five-year term in October, but street protests against “zero-COVID” policies last month saw the most significant public challenge to his rule and may have prompted a relaxation of some measures.


What makes China a potentially large source of foreign visitors to Saudi Arabia 

Updated 07 December 2022

What makes China a potentially large source of foreign visitors to Saudi Arabia 

  • Research by the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute indicates a “strong wave” in travel in 2023
  • Within 10 days of Saudi e-visa launch, 4,000 foreign visitors entered the country, with China topping the list

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s carefully laid plan to expand its tourism sector is showing fruition as it marches forward to meet its target of attracting 100 million visitors to the Kingdom by 2030.

This is evident from the fact that the Kingdom recently topped the G20 countries list for the flow rating of international tourists in the first seven months of 2022, with international arrivals reaching 77 percent of pre-pandemic levels.

For its part, China, home to almost a fifth of the world’s population, is a huge source of potential tourists.

Speaking to CNBC in October, Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb said: “China used to be a very important market, but it is still closed. This year, we’ve seen a great demand from Europe and the US. I absolutely would love to see some of these restrictions ease because Chinese market is a very big market, not only for Saudi Arabia but for all the other countries.”

China, home to almost a fifth of the world’s population, is a huge source of potential tourists. (AFP)

China has a zero COVID-19 policy, which includes lockdowns, quarantining and rigorous testing, aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19, even as other countries ease travel and other restrictions and try to shift to a long-term strategy of living with the virus.

Following the launch of the e-visa in September 2019, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Tourism issued more than 350,000 tourist visas in the first three months of that year alone.

Within the first 10 days of the launch, 4,000 foreign visitors entered Saudi Arabia with China topping the list and the UK and the US in the second and third place respectively.

Research released by China Outbound Tourism Research Institute in May indicates a “strong wave” in Chinese outbound travel in 2023, with a return to 2019 numbers by 2024. “The preparation, the acquisition of knowledge and the adaptation of services needs to be done now, before the wave arrives,” said Wolfgang Georg Arlt, the institute’s CEO.  

Saudi Arabia is well prepared for the return of Chinese travelers, with many institutions adopting the guidelines of the Welcome Chinese Certification program, which is considered the international standard for travel and hospitality services for visitors from the country.

Saudi and Chinese flags at Tiananmen square in Beijing during Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visit to China in 2019. (AFP)

The Riyadh Airports Co., which manages and operates King Khalid International Airport, said that it is working on implementing standards designed to make the airport and its services more accessible and user friendly for Chinese visitors.

The company said the new facilities will improve the visitor experience for tourists from China by helping to overcome the language barrier and providing key services, including payment systems that are compatible with those in their home country. The initiative also highlights the availability of e-visas for Chinese travelers who want to visit the Kingdom.

An important part of the strategy to boost the Kingdom’s entertainment and tourism offerings is Red Sea Global. RSG is currently overseeing the creation of two luxury tourism destinations in Saudi Arabia: The Red Sea and Amaala.

Anton Bawab, group head of operations at RSG, foresees an upswing in the number of Chinese tourists once restrictions are lifted, and that the Kingdom and RSG’s destinations are prepared to welcome them.

“The Chinese market has shown tremendous potential for any country that opened up to it – Europe, Dubai, Maldives,” he said.

“Pre-COVID, Chinese tourists accounted for almost one fifth of global tourism spending. Saudi has huge potential to attract Chinese travelers, and RSG in particular. At the Red Sea, Chinese tourists can get a similar experience to the Maldives, which is a popular destination choice for them. But they can also couple it with culture, shopping and heritage.”