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China Opens Mega Bridge to Hong Kong   10/23 06:42

   ZHUHAI, China (AP) -- China on Tuesday opened the world's longest 
sea-crossing bridge linking Hong Kong to the mainland, a feat of engineering 
carrying immense economic and political significance.

   Chinese President Xi Jinping presided over a ceremony in the city of Zhuhai 
to open the 55-kilometer (34-mile)-long bridge linking it to the 
semi-autonomous regions of Hong Kong and Macau. Digital fireworks exploded on a 
screen behind him as leaders of the three cities watched.

   The $20 billion bridge took almost a decade to build while incurring major 
delays and cost overruns. It includes an undersea tunnel allowing ships to pass 
through the Pearl River delta, the heart of China's crucial manufacturing 

   Its opening will cut travel time across the delta from several hours to just 
30 minutes, something China hopes will bind the region together as a major 
driver of future economic growth. Heavily regulated traffic using permits 
issued under a quota system will begin flowing on Wednesday.

   The bridge forms a physical link between the mainland and Hong Kong, an 
Asian financial hub that was handed over from British to Chinese control in 
1997 with the assurance it would maintain its own legal and economic system for 
50 years.

   That carries major political significance for Xi's administration, which has 
rejected calls for political liberalization in Hong Kong, sparking fears 
Beijing will clamp down further on civil liberties before the end of the "one 
country, two systems" arrangement in 2047.

   The bridge's opening also comes a month after the inauguration of a new 
high-speed rail link from Hong Kong to mainland China that runs along a 
different, shorter route. That line has vastly decreased travel times but also 
raised concerns about Beijing's growing influence because mainland Chinese law 
applies within part of the line's Hong Kong terminus.

   To Claudia Mo, a Hong Kong democratic politician, the bridge's political 
significance outweighs its practical usefulness.

   "It's not exactly necessary, because Hong Kong is connected to mainland 
China in every way already, by land, by air, by sea," Mo told The Associated 

   "But they still need it as a political symbol or icon to remind Hong Kong 
people ... that you are connected to the motherland, with this very grand 
bridge. It's almost like an umbilical cord."

   In Zhuhai, however, sentiments revolved around economic growth and national 

   Airline pilot Liu Gang said he'd been eagerly anticipating the opening of 
the bridge, calling it a symbol of the mainland's increasingly close ties with 
Hong Kong and Macau.

   "It'll bring us even closer together, make us more flexible, economically 
and in many other ways. We're now one family," Liu said Monday afternoon while 
strolling along a walkway and shooting photos of the structure.

   Luo Fengzhi, who works in real estate, cited the bridge as evidence of 
China's growing economic and engineering prowess.

   "For Chinese people, this makes them feel proud," she said. "I hope that 
every patriotic Chinese person can come and see this great feat of engineering, 
and I welcome foreigners to come and see for themselves as well." 


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