The world’s longest sea-crossing bridge, linking Hong Kong to mainland China, has opened today.
The opening is of immense economic and political significance for China, Hong Kong, the greater Pearl Delta and the region.
The Chinese President Xi Jinping presided over the ceremony in Zhuhai, next door to Macau, at the China end of the 54.7 kilometere-long bridge (Phuket, as a comparison, is 48 kilometres from northern to southern tip).
The new bridge links the semi-autonomous regions of Hong Kong and Macau. Digital fireworks exploded on a screen behind the Chinese leader as provincial leaders applauded.
The bridge has taken a decade to construct at a cost of US$20 billion. Along the way there have been delays and cost overruns. It provides the first physical connection between Hong Kong and mainland China. Hong Kong was ‘handed back’ to Chinese control in 1997 following a 100 year old ‘lease’. Hong Kong residents see the new bridge as a disturbing political symbol of greater interference and control in the previously autonomous economic zone.
Part of the new bridge includes an undersea tunnel which ships to pass over the top and continue to navigate the Pearl Delta, the heart of Chinese burgeoning trade and manufacturing hub and the most populous area in the world.
In the past its taken hours to cross the delta by ferry but now that will cut to 30 minutes. Chinese authorities say it will help to fuse the regions around the delta together and provide better options for local travel, trade and tourism.
Daily traffic is set to start tomorrow under a heavily controlled permit system.