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Xi Jinping celebrating China’s $20 billion sea bridge opening speech

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Xi Jinping
Chinese
President Xi Jinping inspects troops at the People’s Liberation
Army (PLA) Hong Kong Garrison in one of events marking the 20th
anniversary of the city’s handover from British to Chinese rule,
in Hong Kong


Damir
Sagolj/Reuters



  • After 10 years, 420,000 tons of steel, and at a
    devastating cost in lives and renminbi, the Hong
    Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge is officially open.
  • The announcement on Tuesday came by way of a strangely
    curt Xi Jinping, China’s president.
  • Xi gave an abrupt two-second speech that, it is fair to
    say, was not what everyone was expecting. “I announce the Hong
    Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge is officially open,” Xi said
    Tuesday.
  • It was an exercise in absolute concision for a
    president who, almost a year ago to the day, opened the
    Communist Party congress in Beijing with a granular three hour
    and 23 minute mega-speech.

After 10 years, 420,000 tons of steel, and at a devastating cost
in lives and renminbi, the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge is
officially open — and the announcement came by a strangely curt
Chinese President Xi Jinping in the port city of Zhuhai.

The opening ceremony itself was shrouded in some of the same
trademark confusion that has dogged the mega-project since its
inception in 2009, with the big day having only just been
announced late last week.

In an unexpected and breathtaking display of brevity, Xi declared
the world’s longest sea crossing — a 35-mile (55-kilometer)
bridge and underwater tunnel connecting Hong Kong, Macau and the
mainland Chinese port city of Zhuhai as open — with a very abrupt
two second speech that, it is fair to say, was not what everyone
was expecting.

With these accurate, although possibly less-than-historic words,
China’s strongest leader since Mao Zedong caught the 700-strong
audience including gathered media and dignitaries on the hop:

“I announce the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge is officially
open.”

It was an exercise in absolute concision for a president who,
almost a year ago to the day, opened the Communist Party Congress
in Beijing with
a granular three-hour and 23-minute mega-speech
summarizing
his thoughts on a new era in socialism with Chinese
characteristics.

Instead, before an audience of top officials including the Vice
Premier Han Zheng and Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam, Xi
said his piece at the strategically located port of Zhuhai and
left the podium as electronic fireworks flailed about on a
television in the background.

Reporters on the ground, including
Bloomberg Bureau Chief Fion Li
were quick to express their
surprise and disappointment.

Rhetorical revelry is a party tradition

Chinese leaders have a proud tradition of ponying up when history
called for it.

Deng Xiaoping, who was diminutive in stature but a political
juggernaut,
made a career with pithy insights
Chinese speakers around the
world still quote and reexamine today.

And while Mao Zedong may have presided over some of the least
poetic policies of the 20th century, the Great Helmsman could
turn a phrase when he had to,
like this brutal and blunt firecracker from 1957
.

As General Secretary of the Central Committee of China’s
Communist Party, President of the State, and Chairman of the
Central Military Commission, Xi has quickly and effectively
concentrated influence into his own sphere.

And the event looked tailor-made for a long-winded reflection on
China’s increasingly successful exercise of soft power, its sheer
engineering audacity and the political genius of building a
55-kilometer crossing that continues to grow the mainland’s
security apparatus and authority on both the semi-autonomous
gambling enclave of Macau and the city-state financial powerhouse
of Hong Kong.

But in the end, the president perhaps decided to let the massive,
looming achievement speak for itself.

It’s all part of the plan

The bridge is part of
China’s ambitious “Greater Bay Area Master Plan”
to integrate
Hong Kong, Macau, and the manufacturing powerhouse Guangdong
Province’s nine biggest cities to create a combined $1.5 trillion
tech and science hub to rival even Silicon Valley.

The 55 kilometer mega-structure is a typically intimidating,
awe-inspiring and slightly pointless statement of state authority
and universal purpose. It rises from the Sun and Moon Bay in
Zhuhai port like some giant, disoriented concrete serpent, and
snakes off mercurially into the distance.

The air here is very thick too, with southern Chinese humidity
and the ever-present eerie grey-brown pollution that wafts in
blooms from heavy manufacturing out of the Pearl River Delta —
the factory floor of the world — ensuring the mega-bridge in all
its glory will be largely obscured from view year-round.

What it does provide, however is direct access to both
potentially wayward semi-autonomous regions, binding the gambling
enclave and the city-state tighter to the breast of the
motherland. Indeed, it may be the angst of an ever-encroaching
China that has tilted the president to such a rare and unexpected
pithiness.

Commentators have been quick to describe the project as a white
elephant, noting that the lightly traveled crossing can hardly be
a push for convenience, but rather another covert expansion by
Beijing as it extends its reach back into the supposedly
autonomous enclaves of Hong Kong and Macau.

The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge is the second major
infrastructure project binding Hong Kong to the mainland opened
in just a few weeks, following a new high-speed rail connection
that opened in September — the first time Chinese security were
stationed on and bestowed authority in Hong Kong territory.

Certainly, there is anxiety in Hong Kong, with critics fearing
the increasing inroads into the special administrative region’s
territory by an ever-assertive mainland, while some local media
has suggested that drivers on the bridge will be closely
scrutinized by cameras that examine even their physical condition
and how fatigued a driver is becoming.

The issues of territoriality may dominate the project for years
to come, the majority of the bridge is considered mainland
territory and Hong Kong vehicles and drivers, already hit by
restricted access, will be traveling under the laws of the
mainland, Hong Kong’s transportation department has warned.

“The Hong Kong government is always out of the picture and is
under the control of the Chinese government,” Tanya Chan told AFP
last week. Construction of the bridge began in 2009 and was
targeted for completion two years ago.

According to the South China Morning Post, 10 workers died and
600 were injured in the construction of the typhoon-proof,
two-way six-lane expressway bridge that the government expects to
carry 29,100 vehicles and 126,000 single-day passenger trips by
2030.

But for now, the bridge is open to some traffic, including
certain buses, freight, and selected permit-holding passenger
vehicles.

It’s also a gorgeous trip by ferry.

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