It took nine years to design, but the Hangzhou Bay Bridge – the world’s longest sea bridge – will be completed this autumn. At 36km, it is a powerful symbol of the emergence of the Yangtze River Delta area as an economic titan – with 10 per cent of China’s population, it accounts for nearly a fifth of its GDP. It also signals the growth of China’s second-tier cities.
Engineers have joined the two ends of the cable-stayed bridge, which starts at Jiaxing, just south of Shanghai, and ends at Cixi, close to the port city of Ningbo, which is known as the “Rotterdam of the East” because of its deep water lanes. The bridge cuts 120km off the road trip from Shanghai to Ningbo and will also open up other regional centres such as Hangzhou.
With a population of 5.5 million, Ningbo is home to a major mobile phone manufacturer, Ningbo Bird, and has the highest per capita volume of housing purchases in China.“Ningbo is becoming a transport hub at the southern flank of the Yangtze Delta, which will play a decisive role in the city’s economic development,” says Chu Jiakang, research fellow at the Ningbo Economic Research Centre.
The bridge will have six lanes of traffic each way and an island midway with services. The €1.1bn bridge is another landmark for China – the first major project to be partially funded (50 per cent) privately. Anticipating a traffic surge, the operators are proposing a hefty toll of €8.
As China’s new rich stand accused of being ill-mannered and brash and the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider, the ethical teachings of Chinese philosopher Confucius are gaining a new relevance. The Chinese government is talking about the importance of a “harmonious society” – a Confucian idea – while the Beijing Institute of Genomics is compiling a database of the estimated three million descendants of Confucius. An official portrait has been approved to keep images of the master coherent.
Which country has the best brand image and why?
Scandinavian countries and Switzerland. I can see they already have what everyone in the world should have – a good standard of living. Several elements are in good balance: nature and people, society and family, work and life. Plus their good design.
Which country would you like to see get a brand makeover and why?
The US, for sure. I think that historians in future will judge the States in the 20th and 21st century as not good. That country’s most valuable asset is its vast untouched landscape. If it could harness this image it can create the best brand image.
This October representatives of Southeast Asia’s juntas, communists, plutocracies and democracies will meet in Singapore, intent on approving a charter first mooted in 1976. The charter promises legal standing, along the lines of the European Union, for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, formed in 1967. It also raises expectations about plans for an economic community of 10 nations with 600 million people. Seeing this through will, however, be tricky.
The Association’s institutions are strong on talk – its big coup has been hosting regular forums for Asia to discuss security – but soft on action because, with the exception of Singapore, weak laws, inchoate bureaucracies and widespread corruption hamper its governments.
However, circumstances are now forcing change. Last January Singapore warned the Association that time was running out to get its act together. “The Charter signals that ASEAN is trying to remain relevant. If it fails to deliver, it will be increasingly difficult for the Association to tackle successfully the economic and security challenges it faces today,” says Ralf Emmers, a political scientist at the RSIS, a leading international studies institute in Singapore.
The rapid economic rise of China and India is buffeting neighbouring Southeast Asia, bringing both opportunities and challenges. Already there are signs that Burma, Cambodia and Laos are becoming vassals of China, which is beating India hands-down for influence in Southeast Asia. Closing ranks is undoubtedly the best bet. It worked for Europe, partly because states sacrificed some sovereignty. Therein lies Southeast Asia’s greatest challenge to playing its hand well.