The president of china, Xi Jinping launched 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.
He officially announced the opening of the bridge at a ceremony attended by Hong Kong’s and Macau’s city leaders at a new port terminal in the southern mainland city of Zhuhai.
The 55-kilometre (34-mile) crossing, which includes a snaking road bridge and underwater tunnel, links Hong Kong’s Lantau island to Zhuhai and the gambling enclave of Macau, across the waters of the Pearl River Estuary.
It is the second major project linking Hong Kong to mainland China to launch in a matter of weeks, after the opening of a high-speed rail link last month, and is part of a Beijing-driven strategy to create a sprawling “Greater Bay Area” economic hub.
Critics have described the sea-bridge as one more way to integrate Hong Kong into China as fears grow that the city’s cherished freedoms are being eroded. The mega bridge will be open to the public on Wednesday.
Those in support of the project referred to it as an engineering marvel that will also boost business and reduce travel time, while others see it as a politically driven and costly exercise.
The main bridge section is considered mainland territory and Hong Kong cars and drivers travelling over it “must comply with the laws and regulations of the mainland”, according to the city’s transport department.
No ceremony was held on the Hong Kong side, only a heavy presence of police was noted in the coastal areas close to the bridge. Residents of hong Kong will only be granted a licence to cross into Zhuhai by car if they meet highly selective criteria, including holding certain mainland government positions or making major contributions to charities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.
The majority of people will need to travel the bridge on coaches and buses.