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HONG KONG: Tarek Qaddumi, executive director of the Saudi  mega-project NEOM, gestures at a map showing NEOM sites as he stands beside Nicholas Ho, the top Hong Kong official responsible for implementing China's Belt and Road Initiative, at an exhibition at the M  museum on April 19, 2024. - AFP
HONG KONG: Tarek Qaddumi, executive director of the Saudi mega-project NEOM, gestures at a map showing NEOM sites as he stands beside Nicholas Ho, the top Hong Kong official responsible for implementing China's Belt and Road Initiative, at an exhibition at the M museum on April 19, 2024. - AFP
NEOM wooing Chinese funds

HONG KONG: Bigwigs behind a Saudi megacity have wrapped up a tour courting Chinese investors, detailing plans for a futuristic ski resort and 170-km-long skyscrapers. The roadshow for NEOM, brainchild of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, traveled from Beijing to Shanghai to Hong Kong, where for two days would-be business partners flocked to a chic museum to peruse eye-popping renderings in various stages of development.

No major deals were announced, but top project officials offered a glimpse into how NEOM has evolved since Prince Mohammed first announced it in 2017. NEOM’s executive director Tarek Qaddumi walked journalists through an exhibition at Hong Kong’s M+ museum on Friday, talking up NEOM’s goal of balancing “nature conservation, human livability and economic prosperity”.

“NEOM is a very vast vision... It is an initiative that is probably the most exciting and the most forward-looking in the 21st century,” he said. The exhibition helped make NEOM “less mysterious”, said Leonard Chan, chair of the Hong Kong Innovative Technology Development Association.

Unveiling NEOM’s centerpiece known as The Line — two mirror-encased skyscrapers extending over 170 km across the Saudi desert — in 2022, Prince Mohammed said its population would exceed one million by 2030 before climbing to nine million by 2045. Standing on Friday near a model of The Line — a gleaming blade slicing inland from the Red Sea — Qaddumi said the population target of nine million would be met “over time”.

He described features of The Line including a 650-m-long “cantilever” jutting into the Gulf of Aqaba as well as a “hidden marina”. He also said construction was underway on tunnels that would allow The Line to pass through desert mountains and an airport expected to welcome 100 million passengers a year and offer a “seamless approach” to the city.

“You’ll get off the plane and walk into the city. We will eliminate all the hassle of going through an airport, whether it’s immigration or security or even... receiving your baggage at the airport. Your baggage will be sent to your address directly.” Apart from The Line, Qaddumi said the luxury yachting island Sindalah was “well under construction” and would “be completed by the end of the year, ready for visitors to spend some time in NEOM”.

Trojena, the futuristic ski resort boasting a manmade lake and 36 km of slopes, must be finished before 2029, when it is set to host the Asian Winter Games. Other elements of NEOM, including some waterfront residential developments in the Oxagon region, will be built “after 2030”, Qaddumi said.

NEOM’s investor roadshow has also included stops in Europe and the United States. The megacity is progressing alongside other major development projects launched as part of Vision 2030, Prince Mohammed’s bid to position the world’s biggest crude exporter for an eventual post-oil future. Last year the Gulf kingdom emerged as the only bidder to host the 2034 World Cup, meaning it now has a decade to build the necessary stadiums and boost its lodging and transport capacity.

In December Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said officials had decided to push the timeframe for some major projects past 2030, without specifying which ones. “Certain projects can be expanded for three years — so it’s 2033 — some will be expanded to 2035, some will be expanded even beyond that and some will be rationalized,” he said. Robert Mogielnicki of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington said projects tied to specific events would likely be prioritized. – AFP

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