China's Xi opens major sea bridge during symbolic tour to southern China

China's Xi opens major sea bridge during symbolic tour to southern China

Critics however point to limited demand in Hong Kong for the project, and competition from improved rail links and the Shenzhen-Zhongshan bridge, which once completed around 2024 is expected to cut traffic on the Zhuhai link by over 25% within 20 years.

But that's not seeing the full picture, say Chinese officials. Hong Kong's Lantau and airport island are seen in the distant background. "The Central Authorities also attach great importance to it".

It was an exercise in absolute concision for a president who, nearly a year ago to the day, opened the Communist Party congress in Beijing with a granular three hour and 23 minute mega-speech. It's also been described as one of the world's most unusual roadways, reportedly boasting special features like yawn-detecting cameras and blood pressure-monitoring machines.

All of the vehicles that will be allowed on the bridge, including trucks, tour buses, shuttles and select private cars, will require permits from all three jurisdictions.

Riding the high speed ferry from Hong Kong to Macau in April this year, it was hard to ignore the shadow of the superstructure towering over the busy shipping lane.

The bridge is part of Beijing's "Greater Bay Area" Scheme, aiming to provide better passenger and freight land transport between Hong Kong and mainland China, transforming the Guangdong province into a more functional business hub. For instance, an individual from Hong Kong wanting to drive to Zhuhai must have paid more than 100,000 yuan ($14,400) in taxes in China, work for a "well-recognized" high-tech company, have donated over 5 million yuan ($720,000) to a provincial charity, or be NPC or CPPCC member. Others have said its main objective is symbolic, ensuring Hong Kong is physically connected to the mainland.

The construction in itself is not a simple bridge, but a bridge-tunnel system.

The bridge as seen on Friday, ahead of its inauguration.

A flurry of infrastructural development, however, has served to physically bind the regions in a more tangible way.

The issues of territoriality may dominate the project for years to come, the majority of the bridge is considered mainland territory and Hong Kong vehicles and drivers, already hit by restricted access, will be traveling under the laws of the mainland, Hong Kong's transportation department has warned.

Beijing hopes the links will spur development in these southern cities which have historically led economic growth in China - particularly amid a looming trade war with the United States. Speaking Monday at Gree Electric Appliances in Zhuhai, Xi emphasized the importance of "self-reliance" and the "real economy", rather than the "virtual economy".

However, plagued by delays and structural problems, not all the residents of the Zhujiang Estuary welcome the colossal road bridge.

Zhang Jinwen, chief inspector of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge Authority, said the bridge was built like building blocks. A bus starting from the Hong Kong Boundary Crossing Facilities can reach Zhuhai in about 40 minutes.

The Washington Post's Luna Lin in Beijing contributed to this article.

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