Fri, Oct 19, 2018 - Page 6 News List

HK bridge launch sparks furor

SECRECY:Local media received invites from Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong to an ‘opening ceremony’ in Zhuhai, China, on Tuesday with no further details given

AFP, HONG KONG

An opening ceremony has finally been announced for the world’s longest sea bridge connecting Hong Kong, Macau and China, but critics hit back yesterday over the secrecy surrounding the launch.

Construction started in 2009 on the 55km crossing, which includes a snaking road bridge and underwater tunnel, linking Hong Kong’s Lantau island to the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai and Macau, across the waters of the Pearl River Estuary.

The bridge has been dogged by delays, budget overruns, corruption prosecutions and the deaths of construction workers.

While supporters promote it as an engineering marvel, others see the multibillion-dollar project as a costly white elephant designed to further integrate Hong Kong into the mainland at a time when Beijing is tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous territory.

Local media on Wednesday received invites from Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong to an “opening ceremony” in Zhuhai on Tuesday next week, with no further details given.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is reported to be attending the event, but there has been no official confirmation whether the bridge would go into operation that day.

The Hong Kong Transport Department had no immediate answer when asked whether it would be fully commissioned on Tuesday.

Bus companies supposed to be operating on the bridge complained they were also in the dark.

“At such short notice and without any details, how can we make the necessary logistic arrangements?” One Bus Hong Kong Macau spokesman Eddie Choi told the South China Morning Post.

An official from the China-based bridge authority said the bridge would be “considered open” from Tuesday and confirmed there would be access that day to registered cars and buses, but did not elaborate.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki (郭家麒), who sits on the Hong Kong Government’s transport panel said he only learned of the launch ceremony from media reports on Wednesday and had not received an invite to the opening, but members of the transport panel have been invited to a bridge inspection tomorrow, he said.

Kwok accused officials of secrecy and said there were still many unanswered questions.

“The bridge needs to be open and used by the public as soon as possible, but whether it is safe and arrangements are properly in place, and conducted and tested, we do not know,” Kwok said.

He likened the lack of transparency to the launch last month of Hong Kong’s new high-speed rail terminus, which saw Chinese security operating in the territory for the first time.

Chinese staff were brought into the station at a secret midnight ceremony.

“Although Hong Kong people have paid a lot for the construction and have a substantial share in this bridge, we have no control,” said pro-democracy lawmaker Tanya Chan (陳淑莊), also on the transport panel, who added that she had no idea what the opening ceremony would entail.

“The Hong Kong Government is always out of the picture and is under the control of the Chinese government,” Chan said.

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