Since the British return of Hong Kong back to Beijing in 1997, there has been the question of not if, but when, China would tighten its grip over the liberal-leaning island. When living in Hong Kong this past summer, I often heard whispers of local distaste and resentment towards Beijing. The Party is slowly pulling Hong Kong back into their centre of gravity. Opponents of the bridge feel very strongly that this project is Beijing’s response to the 2014 pro-democracy protests and is a means through which to force assimilationinto greater China and exert control. Denial also seemed to be a theme, with many Hong Kong residents perceiving completion of the bridge’s construction as an event far in the future. Despite overly optimistic perceptions, the bridge officially opened in October, dubbed the “Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge (HKZMB)”, with the name referencing the three cities now physically connected. The bridge costs $20-billion spans, 55-kilometers, making it the world’s longest sea-crossing bridge. Collateral damage in Beijing’s quest to preserve territorial integrity and sovereignty, Hong Kong has fallen underneath the umbrella of China’s strategy for a Greater Bay Area. The Greater Bay Area covers over 56,000 square kilometresand is home to 11 cities. Furthermore, the Greater Bay Area in the Pearl River Delta is set to become a new technology hub, with the bridge integrating various regions together to serve as a Silicon Valley competitor. The region is home to several technology giants including Huawei and Tencent. The construction of this bridge poses both new challenges and opportunities for Hong Kong and the surrounding area.
Hongkongers, especially those living in Tung Chung, have already begun to feel the effects of a tourist influx. Tung Chung is a residential zone closest to the Hong Kong bridge checkpoint, situated on Lantau Island. Residents there have complained of over-crowding in shops, long queues for public transport and littering. As the bridge can only be used by authorized vehicles, primarily buses and shuttles, people are arriving en masse. On an already congested island with over 50 million touristseach year, Hong Kong residents are questioning the motivations of tourism authorities. With increased access, it is expected that Mainlanders will flood Hong Kong with property investments, thereby encouraging rent hikes that will see local residents bearing the cost. Paul Yip, the chair professor in the Department of Social Work and Social Administration at the University of Hong Kong stated that, ‘Hong Kong does not need a high volume of tourist traffic that adds low value to the city. Once again, the emphasis should be on quality rather than quantity.’ Fears are running high that the interconnectivity due to the bridge will damage the Hong Kong way of life and societal values, that are dissimilar to those of mainland China.
However, despite these very clear challenges, the construction of HKZMB offers new opportunities in tourism, transportation and logistics sector. Managing director of the Ngong Ping 360 cable car operator, Stella Kwan Mun-Yee, welcomes the bridge and its tourists with open arms. She hopes that Lantau Island can become a ‘self-contained destination’and that the bridge may signify the dawning of a golden age of tourism, already seeing a 15% increasein visitors from the Autumn season last year. Despite growing numbers of travellers, transport between the eleven Pearl River Delta cities will surely become much easier with shortened travel times. Macau is now reachable from Hong Kong by both ferry and bridge, with the bridge route halving driving time. Hong Kong bus companies will also reap the benefitsof the bridge route, as the vehicular travel option will be enticing to large number of new passengers eager to either visit Hong Kong or explore the mainland.
It’s been an inevitability since the 1997 handover, but the HKZMB is the first tangible, visible sign of further Chinese integration. It will take time to accurately conduct a cost-benefit analysis on the new bridge, especially as both challenges and opportunities seem to have arisen in equal measure. President Xi Jinping is clearly following outlined Chinese strategic objectives in consolidating a unified Chinese territory and sovereignty. However, democracy activists in Hong Kong warn that Beijing’s tautening leash could backfire and provide more fuel for an independence movement. The increased interconnectivity of cities, interflow of people and intermingling of value systems may permit the ‘one country, two-systems model’ to continue only in name, not practice.
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