RIYADH: For centuries, cultural expressions through the arts and various forms of media have served as a means of spreading ideas and educating people about civilizations beyond their borders. With time, these became the tools of diplomacy to help bind friendly nations and encourage cooperation.
In a similar spirit of cooperation and fraternity, the Saudi Ministry of Media and the China Media Group announced this week the launch of a joint initiative to promote relations between the Arab world and the Asian giant, coinciding with the state visit to the Kingdom by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
One of the three projects, unveiled at Monday’s Arab-Chinese Media Cooperation Forum, is a plan for a joint television series between the Saudi Broadcasting Authority and the China Media Group titled “Heart-to-Heart and Hand-in-Hand.”
Consisting of several episodes, the series will tell the stories of citizens of Saudi Arabia and China, sharing their successes and challenges with the focus on cultural and social integration.
The forum also announced an initiative to broadcast mutual visual works in the Arab world and China, to promote the exchange of cultural, artistic and social content.
Another initiative announced at the forum to “strengthen cooperation between the Arab and Chinese media,” includes the exchange of technical expertise, focusing on disseminating credible news, and exchanging visits between prominent professionals.
“Saudi-Chinese relations are old and well-established and strong, and they are witnessing prosperity and expansion,” Mohammed Fahad Al-Harthi, president of the Arab States Broadcasting Union and CEO of the Saudi Broadcasting Authority, told the forum.
Also speaking during the forum, Majid Al-Qasabi, Saudi Arabia’s minister of commerce and acting minister of media, said Arab countries see China as a reliable partner and look forward to strengthening cultural exchanges.
The influence of soft power has been widely recognized in recent years to assist in improving international relations, conceived in practice through state investment in news and entertainment media, and education initiatives.
Efforts have been underway for several years to promote cross-cultural understanding between China and the Arab world. During Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s 2019 visit to China, he agreed to include the Chinese language as part of the curriculum in the Kingdom’s schools and universities.
Today, some 20,000 Arab students are studying in China, and several schools in Saudi Arabia teach the Chinese language and promote the nation’s culture.
In November, China Mobile International signed a memorandum of understanding with the Saudi Broadcasting Authority, the Saudi Cloud Computing Company, and Whale Cloud to form a strategic partnership in developing the digital media ecosystem.
According to China Global TV Network, all parties would collaborate to provide smart digital media solutions and cloud services to the Saudi Broadcasting Authority.
This marks another chapter in the ever-changing media landscape in the Kingdom. In the first decades after the launch of radio and television in Saudi Arabia, the majority of broadcast entertainment was acquired from abroad, mainly from Egypt and Syria.
Over time, programming began to vary, ranging from Mexican “Telenovela” soap operas to the Japanese game show “Takeshi’s Castle.”
Later, this expanded to Turkish and South Korean shows dubbed into Arabic, broadcast in the Kingdom and across the wider Middle East and North Africa region.
In the age of Netflix, Amazon Prime and other online streaming services, the choice of international content on offer is wider than ever before.
The Kingdom has joined the fray and is making its mark. Saudi Arabia’s own burgeoning film and television industry is exporting the Arab world’s distinctive culture to movie, TV and mobile screens all the way from Europe to the Far East — including China, one of the world’s largest and growing markets.