China opens the longest water bridge in the world

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Chinese president Xi Jinping opened today the world’s longest water bridge linking Hong Kong, Macao and mainland China, while China is tightening its grip on its semi-autonomous regions.

Xi Jinping declared the bridge officially inaugurated during a ceremony in a hall at a port in the new city of Johai, south of the country, amid the presence of leaders of Hong Kong and Macao cities.

In front of a huge screen that transmits scenes to the bridge with a fireworks display, the Chinese president said: “The Hong Kong-Johai-Macao Bridge was officially inaugurated”, before leaving the theater immediately without giving a speech.

Chief executive of Hong Kong Carey Lam spoke at the beginning of the ceremony and thanked Xi for attending in person, and praised the magnificence of the bridge that will open to traffic on Wednesday.

It connects the 55-kilometre (34-mile) bridge and includes an underwater tunnel between Lantau Island in Hong Kong, the city of Johai and the island of Macau, famous for its gambling clubs through the Pearl River waters.

The huge project linking Hong Kong to the Chinese mainland is the second of its kind after the opening of the Fast Train railway last month, part of the Beijing strategy to form a major economic zone.

Critics of the project say the new multi-billion dollar naval bridge is another way to integrate Hong Kong with China, with fears of erosion of freedoms in the city growing.

The bridge was launched in 2009 and the work has been delayed by budget skipping, corruption cases and deaths among workers.

Proponents of the project promote it as an engineering miracle that will enhance business and reduce travel time, while others see it as a huge and costly project that conceals political goals.

The main section of the bridge is affiliated with the Chinese mainland, and drivers from Hong Kong are required to “abide by the laws and regulations of the mainland,” according to the city’s transport department.

Hong Kong residents will be given a license to cross to Johai by car if they have important jobs and positions on the Chinese mainland, or if they make substantial contributions to charities in Guangdong Province in south China.

Most people will need to cross the bridge by bus.

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