Commentary: China dreams big with the world's longest sea bridge

Commentary: China dreams big with the world's longest sea bridge

The bridge is setting the stage for the next phase of China’s transformation, says one observer.

The 55-kilometre (34-mile) crossing links Hong Kong with the southern mainland city of Zhuhai and
The 55km crossing links Hong Kong with the southern mainland city of Zhuhai and the gambling enclave of Macau. (Photo: AFP/Anthony Wallace)

BEIJING: The Chinese government is dreaming big by building massive infrastructure projects nationwide.

It is setting the stage for the country’s transformation into an epicentre of economic and human.

By constructing record-breaking structures, such as opening up in August, the world’s longest sea bridge, the 55km-long Zhuhai-Hong Kong-Macau Bridge with a 6.7-km underwater tunnel, Beijing believes these moves will earn the nation a new economic superpower status.

China remains the world’s most populous nation with nearly 1.4 billion people. Hundreds of millions of poor migrant workers that originally hailed from impoverished farming villages continue to move each year to reside and work in the country’s major cities, including its first-tier cities - Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Chongqing.

READ: Taking a bus across the world's longest sea bridge: A correspondent's view

THE RISE OF THE GREATER BAY AREA

Today, these massive metropolitan zones have emerged as mega-cities, housing over 50 million downtown, in suburbs and nearby satellite towns.

Shenzhen itself is an integral part of the Pearl River Delta region of nine cities in southern China’s Guangdong Province, which includes Zhuhai, located on the western part of Guangdong’s southern coastline, as well as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) and Macau.

The cumulative population of what is known as the China’s Guangdong Greater Bay Area is estimated to be 68 million. The region’s GDP (gross domestic product) has reached US$1.69 trillion, accounting for about 14 per cent of China’s total GDP.

Shenzhen hopes to shine as China’s Silicon Valley, which is home base to China’s leading tech giants, Huawei, Tencent and Baidu. Zhuhai can serve as the corridor gateway for Chinese tech firms based in Guangdong to transport goods to and from Hong Kong and Macau.

Additionally, many Chinese from the mainland visit Hong Kong to engage in business, see relatives, or enjoy a leisurely trip that includes shopping excursions or gambling at the casinos in Macau. 

People stand outside Studio City in Macau, where a gaming slump following a Chinese corruption
People stand outside Studio City in Macau (Photo: AFP/Philippe Lopez)

Due to Hong Kong’s low tax rates and relaxed cross-border trade restrictions, it’s cheaper to buy imported products in Hong Kong and bring them back into the mainland after passing through customs.

So it’s not surprise that the grand opening of the Zhuhai-Hong-Macau bridge was met with great fanfare. Chinese President Xi Jinping attended its launch, traveling through the Zhuhai checkpoint earlier that morning, and vehicles began crossing this spectacular engineering marvel from 10am onwards.

“You participated in the design, building and maintenance of the bridge, gave full play to your talents and wisdom and accomplished the tasks of good quality and quantity,” Xinhua quotes Xi in a speech he delivered in Zhuhai.

READ: The magnificent new global city cluster in China’s Pearl River Delta, a commentary

WHOPPING COSTS

But behind the celebratory mood, the fact is the bridge took a whopping 10 or so years to complete, while officials struggled with massive cost over-runs.

This mammoth of a project saw final costs soaring to US$18 billion, almost double the initial price tag estimated at US$9.7 billion.

READ: Caution rising in China beneath the the Belt and Road Initiative's shiny facade, a commentary

A few critics have highlighted the eyebrow-raising price tag, while some have expressed scepticism about the bridge generating enough traffic - whether delivery trucks, tour buses and passenger vehicles.

SYMBOL OF HOPE

It is early days. But the construction of the bridge is reducing trip duration between Zhuhai and Hong Kong. Before the bridge had opened up, it took four hours on average for a routine trip, a journey that has now been reduced to 30 to 45 minutes.

A general view of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge after its opening ceremony in Zhuhai
A general view of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge after its opening ceremony in Zhuhai, China October 23, 2018. (Photo: REUTERS/Aly Song)

So we can expect more logistics companies to take advantage of this opportunity to increase shipment deliveries in China’s Guangdong Greater Bay Area, which will boost revenues for regional logistics companies overall, and derive greater synergies between businesses there and the world, given Hong Kong’s aviation hub connections.

The building of Zhuhai-Hong Kong-Macau bridge did not come easy. Hong Kong businessman Gordon Ying Sheung, 83, told Xinhua news agency that he had hatched the idea for a bridge to connect Hong Kong with Zhuhai about 40 years ago, but when he told Hong Kongers about his aspirations back then, many people did not consider it feasible or realistic.

Yet, the bridge has finally been built and open to the public, a symbol of hope and optimism for the people of the Pearl River Delta region.

Tom McGregor is a commentator on Asia-Pacific affairs based in Beijing.

Source: CNA/nr(sl)

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