On Tuesday, October 22, 2018, President Xi Jinping of China inaugurated the world’s longest sea bridge in an opening ceremony commemorating the historic nature of the mega-project. The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge (HKZM) unveiling marked a milestone in trade and infrastructure between three culturally and historically different areas of China. The bridge and tunnel stretch across a total of 34.2 miles and connect mainland China with Hong Kong and Macau.
Controversies Surrounding the Project
The project spanned nearly a decade and overshot both its completion date and budget, with Hong Kong alone investing $15 billion into the bridge. The original open date was set for 2016, but the immense nature of the project and controversy about the 600 worker injuries and 10 deaths delayed its completion. In addition to the dangerous nature of the construction, environmentalists believe that the bridge has disrupted the habitat of Hong Kong’s pink dolphin, an already endangered species.
Han Zheng, a top Chinese official overseeing Beijing’s relationship with Hong Kong, declared that the bridge marked the first time that the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau had cooperated to complete a major infrastructure project together. Despite officially being part of China, the relationship between Hong Kong and the mainland has often been tense, and Hong Kong remains independently governed. Hong Kong lawmaker Claudia Mo has given multiple interviews in 2018 comparing the new bridge to a “symbolic umbilical cord tethering Hong Kong to the motherland.”
What Does the Bridge Mean for Trade?
The area the bridge spans, the Pearl River Delta, is one of the world’s busiest shipping areas. Mid-way through the bridge’s 34.2 miles, the bridge dips underwater into a tunnel to allow ships to pass through. According to the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Authority more than 4,000 vehicles including container ships to passenger ferries pass through the area every day. So far, the bridge hasn’t been disrupting ocean freight. It is expected to significantly improve over-the-road (OTR) shipping on trucks, however.
Instead of driving upwards of 3 hours to reach Macau or Hong Kong from the mainland, the bridge is expected to cut travel time down to 30 minutes. Only commercial vehicles, busses containing tourists and a very select few private cars will be allowed to use the bridge with the correct permits, allowing traffic to be kept at a manageable level. The bridge will likely make it easier for products produced in factories on the west side of the bridge to be exported from both sea and airports on the east side. This means that goods can be more easily shipped out of Hong Kong’s international airport, already the world’s busiest cargo airport.
China’s Changing Economy
Mega-projects like this one, along with other cultural and political shifts, are changing China’s economy. The country’s middle-class is also growing, and that means China will no longer purely be an exporter of goods, but will also be a leading importer. More infrastructure like this bridge demonstrates China’s goal of being a leading trade partner with the rest of the world. Companies looking to expand into new markets should look at China for new opportunities.