Chinese leader Xi Jinping opened one of the world’s longest bridges on Tuesday, during a tour to southern China that is seen by some as an opportunity for Beijing to reaffirm its commitment to economic liberalization.
The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge is made up of nearly 35-km (22-mile) bridge and road sections and a 6.7 km (4-mile) tunnel, and has been dubbed the longest “bridge-cum-tunnel sea crossing” in the world.
It will link the financial hub of Hong Kong to the relatively less developed western reaches of the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong province, as well as the former Portuguese colony and gambling hub of Macau.
Xi said nothing during the inauguration of the bridge on Tuesday morning other than to declare it officially open to a burst of fireworks projected onto a screen behind him.
Hong Kong authorities have defended the bridge’s HK$120 billion price tag, saying it would consolidate Hong Kong’s position as a regional aviation and logistics hub.
Xi’s visit to the southern economic powerhouse of Guangdong had been shrouded in secrecy, with state media making little mention of his itinerary before he showed up for the bridge opening.
Some observers see Xi’s tour to the south as highly symbolic, coming on the 40th anniversary of the beginning of China’s reforms, when the country began a transformation from a centrally planned to a market-driven economy with “Chinese characteristics”.
Vice premier Han Zheng said the bridge would help drive China’s strategic blueprint for a “Greater Bay Area” around the Pearl River Delta modeled on other global economic dynamos like San Francisco Bay and Tokyo Bay.
“The bridge stimulates the interaction and trades between Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao, facilitates the development of the Greater Bay Area and boost the comprehensive competitiveness of the Pearl River Delta,” Han said.
Some critics, however, see the bridge as a white elephant that is part of a multi-pronged push by China to exert greater control over Hong Kong, which returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997 amid promises to preserve the city’s high degree of autonomy and individual freedoms denied in mainland China.
The bridge was first proposed in the late 1980s, but it was opposed at the time by Hong Kong’s British colonial government, which was wary of development that might draw the city closer to Communist China.
The bridge’s opening comes at a challenging time for China as it faces pressure from a trade war with the United States, volatile financial markets, mounting public debt and a slowing economy.
Xi has also come under fire for his state-centered approach to economic policy and his focus on stability, rather than proactively pushing market liberalization.
Xi said last month, however, that China was still determined to reform and wanted to work with all parties to build an open world economy.
He said on Sunday the ruling Communist Party would always support private firms’ development, and any acts to weaken the private economy were wrong, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Some Hong Kong media have dubbed Xi’s trip, his second to Guangdong since taking office in 2012, as a “southern tour”, echoing a high-profile 1992 visit to the special economic zones of the south by former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.
Deng’s trip helped reaffirm China’s commitment to reform after the international condemnation following the 1989 killings of protesters in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
A senior Western diplomat said Xi’s southern tour was an opportunity for him to say something significant on economic and market reforms, and to re-affirm Deng’s legacy, noting that Xi had displayed “very little evidence of that” in recent years.
UN Says 10 Children Among 13 Killed By US Air Strike In Afghanistan
The United Nations has on Monday confirmed that ten children, part of the same extended family, were killed by a US air strike in Afghanistan, along with three adult civilians.
The deadly attack occurred early Saturday near the capital city of volatile Kunduz province a northern province where the Taliban is strong where Afghan and U.S. forces were conducting a joint operation against Taliban insurgents.
Sgt. Debra Richardson, spokeswoman for the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, confirmed on Sunday that US forces carried out the air strike. She said the mission aims to prevent civilian casualties, while the Taliban intentionally hides among civilians.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in releasing its preliminary findings about the incident. UNAMA said in a statement that it is verifying that all 13 civilian casualties occurred around the time of the air strike.
U.S. officials confirmed the killing of two service members and carrying out an airstrike in the area, accusing the Taliban of using civilian areas as hideouts.
The strike which happened between late Friday and early Saturday is to support the pro-government forces on ground fighting against the Taliban militants in the area. The ensuing clashes have killed two American soldiers and several local commando forces, prompting the U.S. military to launch the airstrike
Seven Wounded As Gaza Rocket Strikes Home In Central Israel
Seven people were wounded early Monday morning after a rocket allegedly fired from Gaza Strip stuck a house in central Israel prompting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cut short his visit to Washington and return to Israel after his meeting with President Donald Trump.
The Israel Defense Forces said that the rocket, which struck a home in the community of Mishmeret, was fired from a Hamas position in the area of Rafah in the southern Strip, some 120 kilometers from where it struck. It said the rocket was manufactured by the group.
Israel’s ambulance service said it treated seven people overall, including two women who were moderately wounded. The others, including two children and an infant, had minor wounds.
Israel has also closed the Erez and Kerem Shalom border crossings into the Strip.
Netanyahu said that Israel “will respond forcefully” to the rocket fire and that he was returning “to manage our operations up close.”
Teacher From Remote Kenya Village Is World’s Best, Wins $1 Million
A maths and physics teacher from rural Kenya who donates most of his salary to help poorer students has won the $1m Global Teacher Prize for 2019 beating 10,000 nominations from 179 countries.
36-year-old, Peter Tabichi, a science teacher at Keriko secondary school in Pwani Village, in a remote village in Kenya’s Rift Valley, Tabichi, a member of the Franciscan religious order, who gives away 80 percent of his salary to support poor students, received the prize at a ceremony on Saturday in Dubai, hosted by Hollywood actor Hugh Jackman.
“Every day in Africa we turn a new page and a new chapter, this prize does not recognise me but recognises this great continent’s young people. I am only here because of what my students have achieved,” Tabichi said.
In a society where drug abuse, teenage pregnancies, dropping out early from school, young marriages and suicide are common while over 90% of his pupils are from poor families and almost a third are orphans or have only one parent, students have to walk 7km along roads that can become impassable in the rainy season to reach the school.
- UN Says 10 Children Among 13 Killed By US Air Strike In Afghanistan March 25, 2019
- Seven Wounded As Gaza Rocket Strikes Home In Central Israel March 25, 2019
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