Not for the first time, one of Hong Kong’s legions of disfranchised small potatoes uses a judicial review to halt a government mega-project. In 2004 it was public housing tenant and welfare recipient Lo Siu-lan who derailed the privatization of government-owned shopping centres. Today, it’s another elderly woman, Chu Yee-wah, using the Big Lychee’s independent judiciary to squeeze a drop of accountability out of an unelected executive through the overturning of official environmental approvals for the Hong Kong-Macau/Zhuhai bridge.
As with the 2004 case, the effect will be a delay at most. The Transport and Housing Bureau are shrugging the court ruling off; if work on the HK$80 billion cross-delta white-elephant monstrosity is seriously slowed, we can expect government supporters to be wheeled out to lament what a terrible waste of money the old woman, the evil pro-democracy politicians helping her and the courts are causing to innocent taxpayers. (Fun fact: the 2004 case was followed just two months later by the departure of Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa.)
You can see the work on the Macau end of the bridge through the hazy jetfoil window just north of the entrance to the main ferry terminal…
Because Macau is full, the all-road, no-rail bridge goes up to the city but not actually into it (presumably, you park vehicles on the artificial island dimly seen taking shape above). I’m not sure how the freeway slots into the Zhuhai road network, but the area adjoining Macau, just west of the border crossing, was – last weekend – a huge construction site…
What exactly is this thing for?
Officially, the idea is to open up the western bank of the Pearl River Delta to the sort of industrial development seen in the ‘workshop of the world’ in Shenzhen and Dongguan on the east. Thanks to the new link, Hong Kong entrepreneurs will build hundreds more sweatshops in Zhuhai and Zhongshan, producing tons of plastic stuff for Walmart, which will come across the bridge in thousands of trucks burning grubby Mainland fuel to be loaded onto ships in our container port. Yippee.
In fact, the west bank of the Pearl River estuary already has hundreds of factories, a growing port at Nansha and fairly decent links via the bridge upriver at Humen to Shenzhen’s ports. Anyway, as we can see from the amusing juxtaposition of headlines from today’s South China Morning Post’s news and business front pages…
…the Pearl River Delta manufacturing miracle has already happened. The factories’ profit margins are evaporating as Chinese workers demand higher wages, and the future lies in producing higher-value, lower-volume goods or, more simply, moving to places like Sichuan province. This project is 20 years late.
For people of a certain persuasion, the bridge is exciting for its symbolism. China’s central authorities cajoled the various southern jurisdictions into agreeing on it, thus automatically giving Hong Kong a wondrous, warm, patriotic feeling about getting lumped with just over 50% of the bill. So it’s about cooperation, integration and partnership. Or maybe it’s about intense, almost child-like, rivalry. Originally, the idea was to have Shenzhen linked into the bridge, but Hong Kong figures who take these things seriously pleaded with Beijing for the Big Lychee to be given exclusive rights to the thousands of trucks trundling through the streets. (Shenzhen replied that the common enemy, Shanghai, would then be the biggest winner, as all the trucks in China would end up going round and round in circles all day long up there, for ever and ever.) Either way, it’s to do with Beijing, so it must be good. Hey – if we ask really nicely, maybe Mainland officials will loosen up the cross-border car licence regime and let us be swamped with several million Guangdong motorists looking for somewhere to park.
Innocent bystanders still wondering whether there is a rational reason why this project is going ahead can consider one more possibility: there’s HK$80 billion up for grabs, and someone, somewhere is going to get it. Subject to a minor delay.