China’s President Xi Jinping officially opened the world’s longest sea bridge connecting Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China Tuesday, at a time when Beijing is tightening its grip on its semi-autonomous territories.
The 55-kilometre (34-mile) crossing, which includes a snaking road bridge and underwater tunnel, links Hong Kong with the southern mainland city of Zhuhai and the gambling enclave of Macau, across the waters of the Pearl River Estuary.
Xi presided over an inauguration ceremony attended by Hong Kong’s and Macau’s city leaders at a new port terminal in Zhuhai.
“I declare the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge officially open,” Xi said in a one-line address, as digital fireworks exploded on a screen behind him at the indoor ceremony, before leaving the stage immediately.
Supporters of the multi-billion-dollar bridge promote it as an engineering marvel that will boost business and cut travel time, but critics say it is one more way to integrate Hong Kong into China as fears grow that the city’s cherished freedoms are being eroded.
China’s Vice Premier Han Zheng characterised the bridge as part of the development of the Greater Bay Area — a Beijing-driven project to create an economic hub linking nine southern mainland cities to Hong Kong and Macau.
At the ceremony he described the strategy as “deployed and driven by Xi Jinping personally”.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the bridge would help transform Hong Kong from a “connector to a more active participant”.
Some Hong Kong social media comments accused Lam of “selling out” to Xi and portrayed her as Piglet to his Winnie the Pooh, as she was wearing an all-pink outfit.
It is the second major infrastructure project tying Hong Kong to mainland China to launch in a matter of weeks, after the opening of a high-speed rail link last month that sparked criticism Hong Kong was giving away territory — with part of the terminus coming under mainland jurisdiction.
The main section of the new bridge is also considered mainland territory, even though Hong Kong was slated to pay at least half the cost of the project, according to the original blueprint from the city’s government. —AFP