Riyadh: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman said on Wednesday the kingdom would continue with reforms and spending on infrastructure, predicting the economy would grow by 2.5 per cent this year.

Speaking at the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in Riyadh, the crown prince also said he expected economic growth next year to be higher.

Higher oil prices has helped Saudi Arabia’s economy grow in the second quarter at its fastest pace for over a year, according to official data.

Gross domestic product, adjusted for inflation, expanded 1.6 per cent from a year earlier in the April-June quarter. That was up from 1.2 per cent in the first quarter and the fastest growth since the fourth quarter of 2016.

The pickup was mainly due to the government sector, where growth jumped to 4.0 per cent from 2.7 per cent as authorities boosted spending, the data showed.

He said the country’s 2019 budget would be the biggest ever.

His comments during the 50-minute discussion were mainly an inspirational appeal for the Middle East to become a greater player in the world.

“I don’t think that there is any challenge before the great Saudi people,” he said. “All of our projects are proceeding, reform is proceeding, our war on extremism is proceeding, our war on terrorism is proceeding, developing the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is proceeding. No matter how they try to stop our efforts, we won’t stop.”

He said he believes the new Europe is the Middle East, and predicted a “renaissance in the next 30 years”, in the Middle East.

Mohammad Bin Salman likened turning the region into a leader in economic and social innovation to a war.

“This is my war, which I launched personally,” he said. “I don’t want to leave this life without seeing the Middle East at the forefront of the world.”

He also touched on unemployment, a major issue in the Arab world, saying Saudi Arabia’s jobless rate was on track to fall below 7 per cent by 2030. The unemployment rate among Saudi citizens in the first quarter of 2018 was 12.9 percent .

Mohammad Bin Salman was feted with an ovation as he entered the ballroom at the Ritz Carlton hotel, where business leaders from around the world have converged to network and make deals — even though some cancelled last week, citing the stigma of the Khashoggi scandal.

Also on the panel, which was focused on economic development in the Middle East, was Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain, a close Saudi ally.

The standing-room-only audience saluted the Saudi crown prince with their cellphones when he arrived, straining to capture the moment with pictures.

Meanwhile, Mohammad Bin Salman also acknowledged the resilience of Qatar’s “strong economy” in a surprising shift of tone for the man who has spent more than a year enforcing an embargo against the small gas-rich emirate.

“Even Qatar, despite our differences with them, has a very strong economy and will be very different” in the next five years, the crown prince said at the investment summit in the Saudi capital as he explained his vision for the Middle East’s place in the world.

He listed Qatar among the countries in the region capable of changing for the better in the next five years.

Saudi Arabia and three of its Arab allies hit Qatar with the economic and diplomatic boycott over its links to Iran and alleged funding of terrorism, a charge Doha denies.

— Compiled from wires