Riyadh’s Future Investment Initiative (FII) brought some 5,000 delegates, including heads of state and business leaders, to the Saudi capital’s vast King Abdulaziz Conference Center this week. During the many panel discussions, politicians and CEOs offered their take on the myriad problems facing the world. But everyone, from South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol to the guy mixing energy-drink cocktails in the lobby, knew why they were really there.
As the Saudi investment minister, Khalid Bin Abdulaziz Al-Falih, said, “the kingdom has one of the lowest prices for capital” in the world, meaning that funds are cheap and plentiful. And, in economically straitened times, the Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, which runs FII and has an estimated €736bn in assets, has emerged as the world’s banker. With a rictus grin, Oliver Dowden, the UK’s deputy prime minister, insisted that the UK was “wide open for business”. Despite its low price, Saudi capital still comes at a cost. This year it was verbal: don’t mention the wars. When the “Ukraine-Russia conflict”, as the Indian business minister described it, came up, it was only with reference to its effect on global trade. As for the Israel-Hamas war, that was met with furrowed brows but no attempt at positing a solution beyond the need for there to be one.
FII’s raison d’être is to attract foreign investment and talent to the kingdom – a key aim of the government’s plan to diversify its economy away from fossil fuels by 2030. And, as many of those present were at pains to make clear, investors crave stability. As the Middle East’s largest economy, Saudi Arabia could play a crucial role in helping get people around a table to discuss a resolution to the bloody conflict between Israel and Hamas. And if it has no other motivation beyond money, FII proved that that’s more than enough to get people into the room.
Alexis Self is Monocle’s foreign editor. For more ideas, analysis and opinion subscribe to Monocle magazine today.
Hong Kong chief executive John Lee Ka-chiu delivered his second annual policy address this week. The former police officer, who came to power in 2022, outlined several new strategies to boost the city’s economy, from property tax breaks to talent visas, as well as measures to improve birth rate. One of the biggest takeaways, however, was Lee’s announcement that Hong Kong would create its own security legislation in 2024 in accordance with Article 23, a historically controversial section of the city’s mini-constitution.
The article, which requires Hong Kong to enact laws “on its own” to prohibit any act of subversion against the central administration, triggered mass protests after the government tried to pass it into law in 2003. Twenty years later, the city’s political landscape has changed significantly; the comprehensive Beijing-imposed national security law of 2020 all but guarantees that public opposition to Lee’s current plan will not surface. The chief executive’s determination to pass Article 23, despite the existing legislation, indicates that the government will take no chances when it comes to ensuring the complete elimination of political dissent in Hong Kong.
The European Commission launched the worldwide forum of its flagship foreign infrastructure investment scheme, the Global Gateway, on Wednesday. Billed as the EU’s bid to rival China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), it brought together leaders to discuss infrastructure, green energy and transport corridors. At the forum, the EU announced €1bn in investments for the development of sustainable and resilient value chains in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as €12m to upgrade railway lines in Moldova.
“Given that the Belt and Road Initiative has spent more than $1trn (€950bn) over the past 10 years, the Global Gateway has a long way to go to match China’s scale,” Isabel Hilton, founder of China Dialogue, tells The Monocle Minute. “BRI investment has now dialled back and pledges to be greener in the future. Global Gateway’s focus on sustainability is important but its success will depend on its capacity to mobilise funding from a complex mix of sources in order to invest in high-risk emerging economies, which it has yet to do.”
Milan’s Salone del Mobile is the furnishing and design fair that never sleeps. It may be a little under six months until the 2024 edition but the outreach has already begun. On Wednesday evening, Salone’s chief executives and the media gathered at Milan’s Potrait Hotel to kick off the show’s first international press tour, which will take place across Shanghai, London, Berlin, Copenhagen and Paris in November, before heading to key US cities early next year. So what can we expect? “We believe that Salone should reflect the quality and excellence of an entire productive system, an event that acts as a cultural bridge and an economic driver,” Maria Porro, president of Salone del Mobile, tells The Monocle Minute. The tour marks the return of the kitchen and bathroom trade shows, EuroCucina and Bagno, as well as a festive exhibition in Milan’s city centre for SaloneSatellite to celebrate its 25th anniversary. It’s going to be another big party.
Photographer and visual artist Roberto Badin’s latest photobook, Après l’été, published by 37.2 Paris, explores the tranquillity of Biarritz, on the French Basque coast and the ephemeral beauty of the city as it shifts seasons. “The book is about observing a fragment of reality as I see and feel it,” he says.
A selection of his photographs will be exhibited in Paris at the Galerie Joseph from 6 to 12 November to coincide with Paris Photo 2023.
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