Jason Wong, who was born in Hong Kong, remembers the pain of long childhood journeys to visit his cousins in Macau, which is 64 kilometres (40 miles) away on China’s southern coast.
The ferry ride took four hours and could get rough. “People would be vomiting into the sea,’’ he says. “It was not a pleasant voyage.’’
That is now set to change. The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge (HZMB) is the world’s largest manmade sea crossing and one of China’s landmark infrastructure projects. It officially opened on October 23 and is set to reduce journey time between Hong Kong and Macau to around 30 minutes.
Wong, who is Vice President of Shell’s global bitumen and sulphur business, says the bridge will be a marked improvement on the current hydrofoil ferry route, which takes about an hour and can be bumpy.
The HZMB will also connect Hong Kong and Macau to other cities along the Pearl River Delta, shortening travel times in the region and boosting trade and tourism, the Chinese government hopes.
It sees the HZMB as key to developing what it calls a “Greater Bay Area,’’ incorporating Hong Kong and Macau as well as the nine bustling industrial cities in Guangdong province. With a population of about 67 million, the area boasted a gross domestic product of $1.38 trillion in 2016, or about 10% of China’s overall economy.
Boosting industry and tourism
Shenzhen is already home to three of the China’s leading technology companies – Huawei, a maker of smartphones; DJI, which makes civilian drones; and Tencent, creator of the WeChat mobile chat service.
Macau, long seen as a casino town languishing in the shadows of booming Shenzhen and Hong Kong, also stands to benefit, says Dr Wu Fengshi, an associate professor at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, who specialises in Chinese politics.
“The HZMB is an extension of Beijing’s policy to develop Macau into a major industrial and tourist city, to encourage more Chinese companies to start businesses there,’’ she says.
Aviation analyst Michael Hui says the bridge, which will include a customs and immigration terminal on the Hong Kong side, could also ease congestion at Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA), which is building a third runway.
“HKIA is currently approaching maximum capacity and expansion will be difficult before 2024 when the third runway is expected to be completed. In the meantime, some airlines may now choose to land at other Pearl River Delta airports, including Zhuhai, Shenzhen, Macau and Guangzhou,’’ he adds.