SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is making a concerted effort to expand its economy beyond the petroleum sector and appears to have Silicon Valley in its cross-hair.
Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud has announced plans to come to San Francisco and meet with leaders in the Silicon Valley, according to Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.
The upcoming visit by Prince Mohammad, the kingdom’s second deputy prime minister, minister of defense and chairman of the Council of Economic and Development Affairs, comes just two weeks after the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund announced a $3.5 billion investment in San Francisco-based Uber Technologies.
Following the $3.5 billion investment, which grants the kingdom a seat on Uber’s board, Uber CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick told Saudi Press Agency:
“Our experience in Saudi Arabia is a great example of how Uber can benefit riders, drivers and cities. We appreciate the vote of confidence in our business and look forward to partnering with the Kingdom to support their economic and social reforms.”
In Saudi Arabia, Uber currently serves Riyadh, Jeddah, Mecca, Medina and the Eastern Province, according to the Saudi Press Agency.
The prince has been meeting with top U.S. public officials this week, including Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California), among others.
The prince also attend an Iftar dinner at U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s Washington D.C. residence.
He is expected to meet with President Barack Obama and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as well.
State Department Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs John Kirby said Tuesday, “… I don’t want to speak for a foreign government, but I’m comfortable in this regard saying that the Saudis share our concerns about trying to get to a negotiated political process in Syria for a transition – a transitional process to get to a government in Syria that’s not headed by Bashar al-Assad.”
Joseph W. Westphal, U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia told the government-run Saudi Press Agency, that the prince’s trip was an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to discuss “the fight against terrorism, economic cooperation and regional security issues” and said he was looking forward to being briefed on more details pertaining to the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, and the national transformation program 2020, which aim to diversify the kingdom’s economy beyond the oil sector.
In the Vision 2030 plan, Saudi Arabia states:
“A sophisticated digital infrastructure is integral to today’s advanced industrial activities. It attracts investors and enhances the fundamental competitiveness of the Saudi economy. We will partner with the private sector to develop the telecommunications and information technology infrastructure, especially high-speed broadband, expanding its coverage and capacity within and around cities and improving its quality. Our specific goal is to exceed 90 percent housing coverage in densely populated cities and 66 percent in other urban zones. We will also develop building standards to facilitate the extension of broadband networks. We will strengthen the governance of digital transformation through a national council. Additionally, we will improve our regulations and establish an effective partnership with telecom operators to better develop this critical infrastructure. We will also support local investments in the telecommunications and information technology sectors.
The Vision 2030 plan states that Saudi Arabia is planning to expand “the variety of digital services to reduce delays and cut tedious bureaucracy. We will immediately adopt wide-ranging transparency and accountability reforms…We will improve the business environment, so that our economy grows and flourishes, driving healthier employment opportunities for citizens and long-term prosperity for all…Our Vision is to maximize our investment capabilities by participating in large international companies and emerging technologies from around the world.”
The Saudi Embassy in the United States did not immediately respond to CBS San Francisco’s request for comment on the prince’s itinerary or meetings with the private sector in California.
By Hannah Albarazi – Follow her on Twitter: @hannahalbarazi.