As the bridge under construction stretches 55 kilometres to link Hong Kong with Macao, it crosses the waters of the Pearl River Delta (PRD), home to the largest urban area in the world.
Known as the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge for the very places it connects, it sets a record itself as the second longest of its kind in the world. Scheduled to be completed in 2018, the bridge has a section that runs for seven kilometres in a submarine tunnel that passes four artificial islands.
Its construction is costing China $16 billion, part of an ambitious $300 billion plan announced in 2009 to develop a vast infrastructure network to join the nine mainland cities (Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhuhai, Foshan, Huizhou, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Jiangmen, Zhaowing) that make up the Pearl River Delta as a single urban area.
One of the plan’s goals is to reduce travel time among them as well as nearby Hong Kong and Macao – both special administrative regions – to one hour from any which way.
Nearly a decade since this plan was unveiled, the Pearl River Delta has won recognition by the World Bank as the largest urban area – or megacity - in the world, surpassing Tokyo in population and territory: 60 million residents and 56,000 square kilometres. Its gross domestic product (GDP) totals $1.5 billion, greater than that of Indonesia and equal to 9.1% of China’s output, according to the Guangdong Statistical Yearbook 2016.
Pearl River Delta: China’s Biggest Economic Hub
Although it covers only 1% of China’s territory and makes up 4.3% of its population, the Pearl River Delta is the biggest economic hub in the country. It is responsible for 26.8% of the country’s exports, making it third in trade after the United States and Germany, according to the Yearbook.
The development – or urbanization – of the Pearl River Delta began in the 1980s when China created the Pearl River Delta Special Economic Zone to attract foreign investment. It gave the area a certain degree of autonomy in terms of customs, finance and taxes. Manufacturing companies opened up factories, creating a vibrant economic centre. And it keeps on growing as technology companies have followed: its population is expected to reach 80 million with a GDP of $2 trillion by 2030.
The bridge is but one of 150 projects identified by the government under its “Plan for the Reform and Development of PRD” in sectors like energy, transport and telecommunications. Another one is a railway network of 29 lines covering 5,000 kilometres among the nine cities. On the urban planning front, three of the 20 tallest skyscrapers in the world are to rise in the area by 2020, giving the PDR the highest concentration of such buildings anywhere.
The PDR’s proximity to Hong Kong, a global financial centre, has also contributed to its development. An average of 500,000 people commute between it and the city, a number that is bound to rise thanks to a number of public works like the Express Rail Link. By the third quarter of 2018, it will connect West Kowloon, Shenzhen and Guanzhou with a 48-minute ride on high-speed trains travelling up to 200 kilometres per hour.
Official PDR figures show how passenger numbers exceed 1.6 billion a year, while 2.7 billion tonnes of goods are shipped. The PDR’s four main ports - Guangzhou, Yantian, Shekou and Shenzhen – make it the third largest in the world by container volume after Shanghai and Singapore. These strategic assets, along with ambitious infrastructure projects like the bridge and railway network, are putting the PRD on a path of virtuous growth.