OPINION: CHINA BRIDGING THE GAP TO HONG KONG - A WASTE OF MONEY?
By Alistair Law
On 23rd October 2018, China officially opened the Hong-Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, which linked mainland China, and the two administrative regions, Hong Kong and Macau. Spanning 55km, the largest sea bridge to ever be constructed, and costing a grand total of $20bn, the link is said to bring greater prosperity to the ‘Greater Bay Area’, an area of 9 cities within the Guangdong province, on the south coast of China.
The reason for the Greater Bay Area requiring such a large-scale infrastructure project was due to the fact that compared to other ‘Bay Areas’ such as ones in San Francisco, Tokyo and New York, China’s has the largest population, yet the smallest GDP per capita. By creating a physical link, goods, workers and machinery can be transported across the various areas with ease, to enable economic growth in the area. But the colossal price tag is not exactly ideal, as government spending could have been used in other initiatives to stimulate economic growth in more deprived areas in each city. Despite this, surely the $20 billion investment paid off?
Well, as can be assumed, not exactly. The list of problems began during the actual construction. The project went $1.5 billion over budget, and 2 years past the deadline. Furthermore, the nature of its construction was questionable, to say the least. A total of 19 workers died during its construction, with hundreds more being injured. To add more insult to injury, a technician admitted to faking concrete quality tests, because he was simply ‘too lazy’. Well, at least its all constructed now, and the sacrifice of few could bring prosperity and longevity to countless others.
And that is sadly not the case. Originally, it was said to break even in 36 years’ time (which was already an extremely long-term payoff). However, due to running over budget, and estimations on usage of the bridge being inaccurate, this has been extended to precisely 72 years. That’s right, by 2090, this bridge will finally make a return on the investment, I can’t wait.
Even still, using the bridge itself is almost a joke. It is shrouded in bureaucracy. The Golden Gate Bridge requires a little stick-on microchip onto your windscreen to then use the bridge, while for China, where bigger is better - 3 separate permits for each region (China, Macau and Hong Kong) with different application systems are required to use the bridge. Not to mention, a parking space must be reserved 12 hours prior to crossing the bridge, and separate vehicle insurance for each of the 3 regions. Furthermore, Hong Kong is restricting private cars that can use the bridge to the grand total of 10,000.
Considering there are 764,000 licenced vehicles in Hong Kong, this seems a tiny bit off. So who gets these permits? Tech companies that have given about $700,000 to Mainland China, along with diplomats and officials part of China’s government.
Instead of the comfort of air travel, rail or even boat, you can take the shuttle bus across the bridge. But this comes at a risk, considering the fact that one of the artificial islands is actually drifting due to a ‘technical issue’, in that interlocking concrete blocks around the island had simply ‘drifted away’.
Not to mention the grief to the environment caused by the construction, with damage to marine wildlife, such as the rare Chinese white dolphin. Sightings of the dolphin in the area have decreased by 60%, with the WWF severely concerned by the impacts of the bridge.
So if all these problems have arisen from the bridge, then why build it?
China has been trying to get a grasp on Hong Kong, which is vastly more developed, ranking 7th out of 198 countries, and China ranking 90th. Hong Kong could provide a huge boost to the Chinese economy. Ever since China took control of Hong Kong in 1997 after the British handed the region over, China has been trying to quell the freedoms that the British gave, and imposing rules and regulations to bring Hong Kong ever closer to China. High-speed railway lines, police and law enforcement, the silencing of journalists and right activists and now this bridge all show the way the China is trying to stop Hong Kong having freedoms, to bring it in line with the rest of mainland China. Claudia Mo, a lawmaker in Hong Kong called the bridge an ‘umbilical cord to the motherland’.
So is the bridge a waste of money? Yes and no. Yes because naturally large infrastructure projects cost significant amounts of money and also because China tend to have a habit of spending a little too much, such as 50 ghost cities. However, from the Chinese Communist Parties perspective, this is entirely justified, but also sinister from an outsider’s perspective, especially for those in Hong Kong, Macau and other ‘Chinese provinces’ such as Taiwan and Tibet. Bringing Hong Kong closer to China is hugely beneficial to them, and strengthens their political rule and agenda, to unite all Chinese people under one Communist party. They will pay any price to reel in these regions and sends a strong message to other regions thinking of independence, like Taiwan, that China won’t mess around, and will splash the cash, to get control.