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Saudi-hosted show makes a huge 'leap'

Biggest tech event in Middle East sees more Chinese companies taking part

By XU WEIWEI in Riyadh | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-03-06 09:24
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HKSTP Pavilion at LEAP show in Riyadh mimics Hong Kong's iconic I&T landmark – the 'Golden Egg'. [Photo provided to China Daily]

The largest tech show in the Middle East, LEAP 2024, hosted by Saudi Arabia in Riyadh, is drawing multiple investments, including from Chinese companies, in sectors from healthcare to smart cities and from fintech to future energy.

Abdullah Al-Swaha, Saudi minister of communications and information technology, said at the opening ceremony that this year's LEAP aims to attract $11.9 billion in investments that will help consolidate Saudi Arabia's position as the largest market and digital economy in the Middle East and North Africa.

"These investments, the largest of its kind in the region, would support deep and emerging technologies, innovation, and cloud computing in Saudi Arabia and worldwide," he told the audience.

Bearing the theme "Into New Worlds", LEAP, an annual global tech event launched in 2022 and co-organized by Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, features hundreds of speakers, more than 600 startups, besides 170,000 participants from around 180 countries from Monday to Thursday.

Chinese companies, including Huawei, Tencent, TikTok, Alibaba Cloud SCCC (Saudi Cloud Computing Company), China Mobile International, DJI, J&T Express, and SenseTime MEA, are among the participants.

Among the speakers, Ma Hongbin, senior vice-president of Kuaishou, spoke about how AI is shaping the rise of apps in the Middle East and North Africa.

Dubbed the "Digital Davos", LEAP this year is hosting an Asia partner, eWTP Arabia Capital, or eWTPA, a venture capital firm based in Beijing and Riyadh. The firm is backed by Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund.

Jerry Li, managing and founding partner of eWTPA, said: "We believe that LEAP is a platform that can help tech companies demonstrate their products and technology capacity, enhance their international presence and enhance cooperation opportunities with foreign partners."

A number of companies invested by eWTPA, including logistics firm J&T Express, Sahm the online stock trading platform in Saudi Arabia, multi-sector technology and automation provider Raha in Kuwait, and the new instant messaging platform BEEM in France, are attending LEAP 2024, giving demonstrations on the latest products and technologies.

Participants from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region are showcasing 16 cutting-edge technologies to visitors, marking a significant milestone for the city's information and technology industry on the global stage.

Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation, or HKSTP, and the Hong Kong Cyberport, Hong Kong's major technology and innovation promotion hubs, have collaborated to co-host the first-ever Hong Kong Pavilion at LEAP.

Hong Kong's Secretary for Innovation, Technology and Industry Sun Dong said on the opening day that this iconic tech conference is a valuable opportunity "to demonstrate the I&T strengths that Hong Kong can bring to the world".

Promoting partnerships

The Middle East and Saudi Arabia have a great deal to contribute to the Belt and Road Initiative, analysts say. According to Albert Wong, CEO of HKSTP, the sci-tech park aims to promote partnerships with Saudi businesses and inject new energy into the BRI, the China-led infrastructure development program which encompasses over 180 countries and international organizations, including many in the Middle East.

"HKSTP's participation in LEAP 2024 signifies our commitment to leaping into new worlds and embracing the new cradle of global innovation, which is multilateral and impactful," he said.

During the event, Amazon Web Services announced a $5.3-billion investment in a new cloud zone in Saudi Arabia; DataVolt is ready for $5-billion input in Saudi data centers; IBM plans $250 million in a global software development center and ServiceNow pledges $500 million to localize its regional services.

"Saudi Arabia seeks to change the region through development in the field of technology," Minister Al-Swaha added.

Rayyanah Barnawi, the first-ever female Arab astronaut at the International Space Station, highlighted at the opening ceremony Saudi Arabia's endeavor to improve the rate of women working in the science and technology sectors.

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