Saudi Arabia Taps China for Struggling $500B Neom Metaverse

Saudi Arabia Taps China for Struggling $500B Neom Metaverse

Executives behind Saudi Arabia megacity extended the Neom road show to China to attract investors amid speculation about the scope of the project.

Neom officials were last week in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong shedding more light on the enigmatic megacity. Although there are no deals announced yet from the Chinese expedition, one of the attendees acknowledged that the exhibition helped make Neom “less mysterious.”

Neutral sentiment

Hong Kong Innovative Technology chair Leonard Chan told AFP that most reactions to the Neom project at an invitation-only event were “mostly neutral.”

Discussing on his chances of living on Neom’s centerpiece known as The Line, Chan was a bit doubtful.

“I’ll visit for fun, but I won’t live there. It’s like something out of SimCity,” he said.

“Maybe if I live there, I won’t want to leave, and it’s like being isolated from the world and I just can’t stand that.”

The Line is a two mirror-encased skyscrapers extending over 170 kilometers or 105 miles across the Saudi desert.

The private exhibition accorded those in attendance an “immersive experience” as they explored the futuristic city, along with Oxagon, with its potential to redefine “traditional industrial model.”

Attendees also had a chance to sightsee Neom’s mountain resort – Tojena and Sindalah, which is a luxury island in the Red Sea which is expected to open to the public this year.

Just like Chan, environmental group Friends of the Earth chair Plato Yin said The Line “feels like being caged inside, even though it may be very comfortable.” Yin is currently exploring green hydrogen deals with Neom.

Balancing “nature and human livability”

During the exhibition at Hong Kong’s M+ museum last Friday, Neom’s executive director Tarek Qaddumi interacted with journalists explaining 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 most forward-looking in the 21st century,” he said.

Qaddumi also described some features of The Line, which include a 650-meter-long “cantilever” extending into the Gulf of Aqaba and a “hidden marina.”

He also spoke of ongoing construction of tunnels that would allow The Line to pass through desert mountains and 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,” he said adding the system would send baggage direct to a visitor’s address.

Another feature is Trojena, which is a futuristic ski resort with a man-made lake and 36 kilometers of slopes. This one is scheduled to compete before 2029, in time for hosting the Asian Winter Games.

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Executives take Neom across the world

The roadshow for Neom, which has also had stops in Europe and the US toured Beijing, Shanghai Hong Kong for two days where potential partners came along “to peruse eye-popping renderings in various state of development.”

But officials did not address reports that surfaced recently that plans for the desert project were being scaled back.

A Bloomberg report earlier this month reported Saudi Arabia had cut estimates on numbers of people expected to live on The Line to 300,000 from 1.5 million by 2030.

The project a brainchild of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is, according to Dawn progressing alongside other major development programs launched as part of vision 2030. This is part of Prince Mohammed’s efforts to position the world’s crude exporter “for an eventual post-oil future.”

The Gulf kingdom was last year the only bidder to host the 2034 World Cup, which gives it a decade to develop the necessary infrastructure for the football extravaganza, including accommodation and transportation facilities.

Its Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan in December indicated officials had decided to extend the timeframe for some major projects past 2030.

“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 rationalised,” he said.

Image credits: Shutterstock, CC images, Midjourney, Unsplash.