China on Tuesday opened the world's longest sea-crossing bridge, a feat of engineering carrying immense economic and political significance. Chinese President Xi Jinping presided over a ceremony in the mainland city of Zhuhai to open the 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 sector, the AP reports.
The bridge's 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. But 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 says. "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." (Officials denied earlier this year that parts of it were floating away.)
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