Thursday, October 10, 2002

Ridley Scott needs to set a film in this place

There is an interesting piece in The Economist talking about the growth in the Pearl River Estuary region in China into perhaps the world's most important industrial region. We have the great city of Hong Kong, the wild west around Shenzhen, the industrial heartland in the Shenzhen Economic Zone, the gambling den of Macau, all linked together. One thing that is striking about this region is the ferocious development of new infrastructure: railways, bridges, roads, airports, containers ports, everything you care to name. Most western cities built their key infrastructure 100 years ago and have since been tweaking essentially complete systems. In Hong Kong, there are still gaping holes, and devlopment is ferocious. In the rest of the region, even less is there and the pressure to build is even greater.

The article talks about a proposal to built a 39km bridge across the estuary, connecting Hong Kong with Macau and the Special Economic Zone of Zhuhai. This would apparently be something similar to the Sunshine Skyway in Florida. It would be two lengthy causeways, with an island in the middle, and presumably a number of lengthy spans allowing for shipping to go through. This is apparently possible because the estuary isn't deep. Still, we are talking something quite impressive.

One key obstacle, however, is the extraordinary number of political jurisdictions that come into play. Although it is all part of China, we have the Hong Kong and Macau special administrative regions, the Shenzhen and Zhuhai Special Economic Zones, and the Guangdong province proper. To go from any one to any other one of the five you need a passport, so getting all these jurisdictions (plus the central Chinese government) to agree on building such a project is a nightmare. There is a history of all of them building ports, airports and goodness knows what in competition with each other already.

This article suggests setting up something akin to the Port Authority of New Jersey and New York to manage key infrastructure in the region. The original Port Authority was set up for a very similar reason - to have jurisdiction over infrastructure that was important to both states and to prevent constant arguing between them. The Port Authority does this quite successfully, although there are certain other things that this kind of large public sector bureacracy does less well: for instance managing the customer service side of New York's airports.

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