President Xi Jinping expected to attend opening ceremony of Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge – but not to visit Hong Kong
Central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong has announced event will take place in Zhuhai on October 23
President Xi Jinping is expected to attend the opening ceremony of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge on October 23, but will not be crossing over to the Hong Kong side to mark the linking of the three cities through the mega project nine years in the making.
Government sources told the Post on Wednesday about Xi’s possible involvement, as Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong confirmed the ceremony for the launch of the world’s longest sea crossing would take place in Zhuhai on Tuesday, but provided no further details.
Another source disclosed that Hong Kong police would still mount a land and sea security operation during the official opening, even though Xi was not expected to visit the city. The source said that marine police launches would patrol waters on the Hong Kong side, and that observation posts would be set up at Chek Lap Kok, which overlooks the artificial island housing local immigration and customs facilities for the bridge.
While there was no official clarification, sources said the bridge was likely to open on the day of the ceremony, but one added: “We are still awaiting confirmation from the mainland authorities – there may be a last-minute change.”
Eddie Choi, a spokesman for coach operator One Bus Hong Kong Macau, which runs a fleet of 19 vehicles between the two cities, complained about the short notice.
“At about 5pm today, we received a notice from the government that there would be a ceremony in Zhuhai,” Choi said. “We’ve asked Transport Department officials whether it means the bridge will open the same day. They had no clue.”
He added that the rushed arrangement had put the transport sector in a difficult situation.
“This is a mega project. All the stakeholders have been expecting it with great anticipation. We hoped to have ample time to make manpower arrangements and to promote our new coach services,” he said.
“At such short notice and without any details, how can we make the necessary logistic arrangements? It will cause chaos and great inconvenience to the passengers.”
The government source said the opening date was announced at short notice because of security requirements for Xi. He pointed out that in 2007, then-President Hu Jintao attended the opening of the Shenzhen Bay border crossing and Shenzhen Bay Bridge.
The 55km bridge marks a new milestone in Beijing’s broader push to create the Greater Bay Area – a technology-led economic hub comprising Hong Kong, Macau and nine Guangdong province cities with aspirations to rival California’s Silicon Valley.
The bridge will put the three cities it links within an hour’s drive of each other and is expected to boost economic development and tourism in Hong Kong, which has invested HK$120 billion (US$15.3 billion) in the project.
Hong Kong lawmakers were expected to visit the city’s section of the bridge on Saturday, after a three-day drill by the three involved governments in late September. The drill tested the cross-border facilities and road links.
The sources said around 800 customs and immigration officers were ready to start work at the Hong Kong control point of the bridge on the 130-hectare artificial island to the northeast of the airport at Chek Lap Kok.
A new X-ray facility, costing tens of millions of dollars, that could simultaneously screen two cross-border container lorries and produce high-resolution images would be used at the control point, they said.
The bridge will provide a fast lane to the western part of the Pearl River Delta, Guangdong and Guangxi. A trip between the Kwai Chung Container Port and Zhuhai would be reduced from about 3½ hours to an hour and 15 minutes.
And it would only take around 45 minutes to travel from Hong Kong International Airport to Zhuhai instead of the current four hours.
Preparations for the ceremony were under way on the artificial island at Zhuhai Port, a source familiar with the situation said. It was understood Zhuhai public security officials had been instituting security measures at the port over the past two weeks.
Xi was expected to visit Guangdong as early as this Saturday, several sources close to the provincial and Shenzhen authorities told the Post.
Details of the president’s itinerary remained unclear for security reasons, but sources said it would include a visit to the renowned Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou.
The presidential trip, the subject of much speculation this year, would be highly symbolic in marking the 40th anniversary of China’s landmark economic reforms and opening-up policy.
The southern economic powerhouse of Guangzhou was the lead runner in the reforms, with Shenzhen chosen as the first special economic zone to test out market-oriented policies.
It was also the destination of Xi’s maiden visit outside Beijing after taking power in late 2012, and was seen as a strong signal of his support for greater market-oriented reforms.
Additional reporting by Nectar Gan, Choi Chi-yuk and He Huifeng