With a short sentence - "officially announcing the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao bridge" - Chinese President Xi Jinping inaugurated on Tuesday the longest bridge in the world over the sea, the colossal work is 55 kilometers long. cost about 20,000 million dollars and its construction for nine years has been plagued by problems, delays and political tensions.
The execution of such infrastructure is a sign of power for the Chinese Government and the bridge is one of the jewels of the crown within its ambitious global connections initiative known as the New Silk Road. It is also a key piece in its plans for economic integration of the big cities in the Pearl River bay, home to almost 70 million people and that Beijing aspires to become a center of technological innovation that rivals Silicon Valley. From now on, the journey between Hong Kong and the city of Zhuhai, in mainland China, will go from four hours to 45 minutes.
For critics of the project it is an unnecessary waste, an investment that will be complicated or impossible to recover, with a disastrous impact on the marine ecosystem and that ordinary citizens do not want. In Hong Kong, the pro-democracy sectors are suspicious of a work that, in their eyes, blurs the borders between mainland China and the autonomous territory and their freedoms are increasingly being harassed.
The ceremony, certainly, was developed in a minor key. But the mere presence of Xi in the act represented a sign of the importance that Beijing gives to the project. Although his intervention was so short: it lasted longer the long salvo of applause with which he received the 700 guests than his short sentence, after which he left the event without addressing the audience.
Although the opening ceremony took place on Tuesday, vehicles will not begin to cross the bridge until Wednesday. It is not expected that, at least for the moment, it will generate big traffic jams: cars that want to use it need a prior permit. And the bus companies that will cover the route only received notification of the opening last week, when they expected a warning of at least two months to start the service.
Officials had already cut the traffic figures expected to cross the bridge, due to competition from other services and transport routes. In 2008, the year before the works began, a study predicted that 171,800 passengers would cross it daily in 33,100 vehicles. But in 2016, officials at Hong Kong admitted earlier this year, expectations were reduced to 126,000 passengers and 29,100 vehicles. Although according to China the macroproject will provide more than a billion euros in economic benefits to the region, a calculation of the Mandarin service of the BBC provides that tolls generate only about 80 million euros per year.
The bridge represents the second major infrastructure project that opens this year and connects Hong Kong with mainland China, after a high-speed railway service linking the former British colony with Canton was opened in September and, with a large controversy of by means, allows that Chinese agents operate in Hong Kong territory to avoid that the trains have to stop in the border.
Part of the population of Hong Kong sees these works with suspicion. "Above all, it is a political project that seeks the integration of Hong Kong in mainland China and that, in the long run, will weaken our uniqueness and ability to develop independently," politician Nathan Law had pointed out to this newspaper a few months ago. , one of the leaders of the demonstrations that in 2014 blocked the center of the autonomous territory to demand more democracy.
Citizens of this semi-autonomous region - reverted to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 - have a series of rights greater than those of their compatriots under the "one country, two systems" principle agreed for the region for the next 50 years. Therefore, works of this nature represent for many a step more in the loss of freedoms, from the arrest of five booksellers to the growing restrictions on political parties and supporters of greater autonomy. "Beijing is not willing to give up even one gram of its power, so in its relationship with Hong Kong it has become more dominant and severe," the veteran Civic Party legislator, Claudia Mo, told EL PAÍS. father who tells his son: 'all the restrictions I impose on you are for your own good.' It is annoying and annoying, "he added.
Outside the political sphere, the work has also generated criticism for its problems of occupational safety (at least nine workers died and hundreds suffered injuries during construction, which has accumulated a delay of two years) and its environmental impact. Ecological organizations, including the Hong Kong office of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), have denounced the reduction in the number of surveys in the area of white dolphins, a species in serious danger of extinction.
Digital Newspaper El País