What Saudi Arabia likes about ‘one country, two systems’

July 12, 2019 10:30
Under the "Vision 2030" plan, Saudi Arabia seeks to transform the kingdom in the "post-oil era" and build a special region to become a financial center in the Middle East. Photo: Reuters

A few months ago I was invited to Saudi Arabia, where the government is hoping to learn more about the successful implementation of the "one country, two systems" in Hong Kong.

Saudi leaders are keen to build such a region, and so the visit was to encourage the exchange of ideas about the scheme.

Filled with ambitious plans, especially "Vision 2030", Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman intends to embrace the "post-oil era" and build a special region to become a financial center in the Middle East.

The kingdom is also using its oil money to splash out on all sorts of infrastructure projects.

However, conservative ideas remain strong in the kingdom, and there are some very influential people who seem unwilling to see this massive transformation come into fruition.

A huge spending scheme such as this will almost always benefit the privileged, creating wealth for the upper class and the business sector, but its effectiveness in boosting the kingdom's economic prospects remains to be seen.

Status symbol

It is said that in order to highlight the "one country, two systems", the Saudi government has pledged to relax religion-related rules. But is that doable in practice?

Let’s take alcohol as an example. Many Saudis have to go to neighboring countries such as Bahrain where drinking is allowed to indulge in the illegal vice. The way I see it, the ban is unlikely to go.

The water amusement park is another case in point. For many locals, going to a water amusement park for fun and frolic amid the scorching heat is a luxury and a status symbol.

While most people will go there for entertainment, such venues are also seen as providing the occasion for people to flaunt their bodies and meet members of the opposite sex.

Still, people, especially women, are not allowed to wear revealing clothes in such places, which are also segregated.

One female Saudi delegate asked an interesting question: What is going to happen to our water amusement parks?

It is obvious that Saudi Arabia's “one country, two systems” idea is a special zone that enjoys privileges not available in the Saudi mainland, such as those pertaining to tariffs, visa, currency, etc.

Such privileges will allow the kingdom to bypass resistance from the conservatives in the ruling class.

From that perspective, the Saudis view Hong Kong as a successful case. But with regard to other problems stemming from the "one country, two systems", they don’t seem to care.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 26

Translation by Jennifer Wong

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal