China’s president opens long-delayed southern sea bridge

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BEIJING: President Xi Jinping opened the long-delayed and over-budget Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge on Tuesday, billed as a major step forward in China’s plan to turn the Pearl River Delta into a technology hub to rival Silicon Valley.
But critics worry the 55km-long bridge connecting the mainland city of Zhuhai with the semi-autonomous territories of Hong Kong and Macau is as much about politics as it is business.
“It is a grand political gesture – uniting Hong Kong, Macau and the mainland,” said veteran Hong Kong-based analyst Philip Bowring, adding the area’s existing transport links are more than sufficient. “It is certainly not a commercial gesture, that is for sure.”
China is stepping up initiatives to increase trade across the region and at home – the opening of the mega-bridge comes a month after a new high-speed rail link started carrying passengers from Hong Kong to the mainland.
The government in Beijing and authorities in Hong Kong and Macau, which have funded the bridge together, say it will meet the demand of both freight and passenger traffic, and boost economic development within the cities of the Greater Bay Area, which are home to an estimated 69 million people.
The bridge “will facilitate personnel exchange, and bring strategic significance for the development of both Hong Kong and the Bay Area”, Frank Chan Fan, Hong Kong’s secretary for transport and housing, said in a statement.
“The challenge is to make sure that the separate systems of Hong Kong and China are preserved as the two countries implement institutional reforms,” said Jiang Lin, an economics professor at Sun Yat-sen University.
“It will be a dilemma because the boundary between the countries does blur with developments like the bridge and the high-speed rail.” The Greater Bay Area, first mooted in 2017, is supposed to turn the region from a global manufacturing hub into a centre for innovation in science and technology.

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