[INTERVIEW] Saudi Arabian envoy anticipates S. Korea's greater influence in Saudi's smart city construction project

By Kim Joo-heon Posted : December 27, 2023, 16:46 Updated : December 30, 2023, 00:47
Saudi Arabian Ambassador to South Korea Sami M. Alsadhan [Courtesy of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Seoul]
SEOUL -- Saudi Arabian Ambassador to South Korea Sami M. Alsadhan anticipates greater influence from South Korea's private sector in the Middle Eastern country's mega smart city construction project. Currently, a consortium led by Samsung C&T, a Samsung Group unit specializing in trade, investment and construction, and Hyundai E&C, a major builder affiliated with South Korea's Hyundai auto group, is involved in building "NEOM," a smart city powered by renewable energy on the coast of the Red Sea.

A smart city serves as a platform that interconnects city infrastructure, including facilities and devices, using mobile cable networks. A smart city platform uses artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous technologies, and big data to process real-time information collected through various kinds of sensors installed throughout the city. The mega project NEOM is spearheaded by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. By 2030, the crown prince plans to build the futuristic city in deserts and mountainous areas near the Red Sea by injecting some $500 billion.

Ambassador Alsadhan said South Korean companies engaged in the NEOM project have supplied construction equipment. The veteran diplomat added that South Korean products are being used for the construction of "The Line," a linear smart city in the NEOM region designed to be free of vehicles, traditional streets, and carbon emissions. Along with high-speed railway infrastructure, artificial rivers and forests will be built in The Line. Samsung C&T and Hyundai E&C are constructing a tunnel that passes through The Line's underground.

"We look forward to Korean companies having a greater presence in the construction of NEOM city due to the presence of investment opportunities and ongoing projects," the Saudi Arabian ambassador told Aju Korea Daily on December 22. The veteran diplomat said such projects could be a strong incentive for South Korean firms to enhance their presence and increase investments in Saudi Arabia.

"I must point out here that the Republic of Korea is considered a strategic partner of the Kingdom in Vision 2030 according to the memorandum of cooperation 'Saudi-Korean Vision 2030,' which was signed in October 2017," Alsadhan said. Under the national project "Saudi Vision 2030," the Middle Eastern nation is striving to diversify its economy and nurture its public service sectors such as health, education, and tourism rather than relying solely on the oil business. In September 2023, Saudi princess Haifa bint Mohammed Al-Saud visited the office of South Korea's entertainment powerhouse SM Entertainment to explore Korean cultural wave.

The envoy highlighted Mohammed bin Salman's state visit to South Korea in November 2022, leading to the signing of around 26 memorandums of understanding worth $30 billion. South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol visited Saudi Arabia in October 2023 to seek cooperation opportunities. "There is no doubt that the results of these two visits, which are driven by the distinguished relations between the two countries, will contribute to the success of future projects, in addition to targeting additional areas other than the existing ones, such as clean and renewable energy, blue hydrogen, smart cities, and other fields," the ambassador mentioned.

Saudi Arabia is also set to host the World Expo in 2030. The international economic event, held every five years for six months, will take place in Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia. The event can play a vital role in presenting the country's progress in artificial intelligence, big data, and information communication technologies.  

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