The Guangdong coastal transport infrastructure is to be radically upgraded, according to plans outlined by the Communist Party Secretary of the Zhuhai Special Economic Zone. In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Liang Guangda said that as well as the proposed Lingding Yang Bridge between Zhuhai and Hong Kong, an eight-lane expressway was being built along the coast and another to Guangxi province. The central Government plans to build a highway from Heilongjiang to Hainan Island. A six-lane Beijing-Zhuhai highway was expected to open in the next three years, linking coastal ports. Mr Liang was speaking in one of a series of interviews by the Post with top officials in southern China before the handover. SCMP: How do you see the future evolving in the Guangdong region, where you have Hong Kong, Macau, Shenzhen, Zhuhai and other important development areas which have greater administrative freedoms to set their own laws and policies? Liang: Hong Kong, Macau and each of the SEZs enjoy their own legislative power. This is beneficial to us because each faces its own problems. I believe it is indispensable for us to be authorised to issue our own laws tailored to our needs. We need to carry on with what has proved to be effective. For example, many foreign companies have set up here, and we pass laws and regulations to ensure a standard implementation of policies which have proved effective, better protecting the interests of these companies and ensuring they will not alter if the mayors or directors of certain departments change. I am also sure our legislation serves as a testing ground for the whole country in terms of legal construction, though I want to stress that our legislation shall by no means be contradictory to national laws. SCMP: What changes will the return of Hong Kong bring to Zhuhai and how different will the return of Macau be? Liang: Hong Kong's return will be a big help to Zhuhai because the two economies are highly complementary. Not surprisingly, the first two SEZs of our country are right next to Hong Kong and Macau because our Government wants to carry out its opening-up through Hong Kong and Macau. Hong Kong investment accounts for about 50 per cent of Zhuhai's overall overseas investment, especially in financing and industry. Most of our imports and exports go via Hong Kong. After the return of Hong Kong, our economic ties will be even closer. Hong Kong's industry is facing new challenges of structural readjustment, and we can jointly develop our science and technology. We also want to co-operate with Hong Kong in developing tourism. Our warehouse and bonded-zone resources can be further tapped by Hong Kong. Many peripheral islands around Hong Kong are under Zhuhai's jurisdiction. After the return of Hong Kong, its warehousing industry and bonded zones can move to these islands. I see further co-operation in transport and large-scale infrastructure construction. The rapid development of Zhuhai and other areas of the Pearl River Delta demands better transport links with Hong Kong. Hong Kong's population is already over six million and might rise to over seven or eight million. It is not enough for such a metropolis to just have transport links with China in one direction. It needs to have a transport network extending in all directions. I believe it will serve the interests of Hong Kong and Zhuhai, and all the peripheral areas, to build another big route between Zhuhai and the western part of Hong Kong. The completion of the Lingding Yang Bridge will provide Hong Kong residents with a new choice of where they can live. SCMP: Do you have any idea how long it will take to build the bridge and how it can be funded? Liang: We believe we can complete it in six years once the central Government gives us permission. To finance it, firstly we have our own capital and secondly all other cities which will benefit from the bridge, such as Zhongshan, Jiangmen, Yangjiang and Zhanjiang, can be involved. We also plan to use foreign funds. After eight years of preparation, we have found companies from America, Spain, Italy, Singapore and Korea which are interested in the project, and we have been conducting close discussions with them. I feel that the project is very attractive to many companies in the world. SCMP: Do you see financing from Hong Kong? Liang: Yes. Some of those companies I mentioned which are interested in the project have subsidiaries in Hong Kong. Some Hong Kong banks are also interested and have been in touch with us. If the project is given approval by the central Government, we will call for open bids. SCMP: What is the total length of the bridge and how many exits are there? Liang: The full length of the Lingding Yang Bridge is 53 kilometres. The bridge approach in Zhuhai will be 14 km, and the one in Hong Kong will be 13 km. There are altogether four exits. SCMP: Will it be a toll bridge? Liang: It will, since it is built to meet market demand and the investment won't come from the Government. When the bridge is completed, it will completely change the transport situation by adding one major artery which extends from the western part of Hong Kong to Zhuhai, the Pearl River Delta, west Guangdong, Hainan, Guangxi and even all southwestern provinces of China, shortening the distance by 300 km. In Guangdong alone the bridge will benefit nearly 30 million people. SCMP: Comparing Shenzhen and Zhuhai, has Shenzhen benefited greatly by being just across the border and the immediate exit to Hong Kong? Liang: Shenzhen is adjacent to Hong Kong, and naturally it benefited more than Zhuhai. To achieve further development of Zhuhai and to make full play of the highly complementary advantages of Hong Kong and Zhuhai, we decided to build the bridge. Also, look at the map of Guangdong. We are building an eight-lane expressway along the coast and another leading to Guangxi province. The central Government plans to build a highway all the way from Heilongjiang to Hainan Island. The six-lane Beijing-Zhuhai superhighway is expected to open by 1999 or 2000. It starts from the Tumen River in Heilongjiang and will pass through Shandong province, Shanghai municipality and other coastal ports in southeastern China, including Hong Kong. SCMP: You spoke about the roads and bridges. The other means of transport is aviation. Hong Kong's new airport opens next year, then there is Macau airport, Shenzhen airport and your own here. Is there a danger of too many competing airports? Liang: When you take into consideration the region as a whole, you will see it is reasonable. Hong Kong has become an international transport centre linked with two-thirds of the world. The priority of its new airport is international service. These factors ensure a big opening for aviation business in the region. Shenzhen airport is listed in the top 10 Chinese airports in terms of volume of passenger flow. It is going to be expanded. Zhuhai airport's passenger flow volume ranks 15th among China's airports. It serves not just our needs but the whole Pearl River Delta and western Guangdong province, with a population of more than eight million. Shenzhen and Zhuhai are two major entry points. Last year, more than 40 million people passed through Shenzhen border controls and 28 million through Zhuhai. Although it may seem that there are too many airports in the region, they are necessary. SCMP: There has been some discussion in Hong Kong about the level of charges at the new airport, with some airlines, particularly cargo airlines, saying they are too high. Might cargo shift from Hong Kong to Zhuhai, particularly if the bridge is built? Liang: The priority of our airport now is to the domestic market. We will wait to see how Hong Kong's new airport operates before we can make a decision. SCMP: How will the relationship with Macau develop to 1999? Liang: Both Hong Kong and Macau will act in accordance with the principle of 'one country, two systems'. Both will enjoy a high degree of autonomy. The return of Macau in 1999, just like the return of Hong Kong, will enlarge our co-operation in broader fields. Our relationship to Hong Kong and to Macau can both be summarised as a highly complementary one. Macau is rather rich in foreign capital resources while Zhuhai is short of them. After its return, we hope that more banking syndicates will invest in Zhuhai. We can also co-operate in the hi-tech field. Macau, with its direct access to the world, will make it more convenient for us to enter international markets. It has close relations with the European Union. After its return, we can raise our economic co-operation to a higher level. SCMP: Has the outbreak of triad-related violence in Macau been a matter of concern to Zhuhai? Liang: There are some problems in Macau, especially fighting between feuding triads, but we believe the problem will be solved. I don't think it will have much impact on us.