China to build $22 bn undersea tunnel between Hainan island, mainland
China is to invest 150 billion yuan ($22 billion) to build a cross-strait tunnel that enables both rail and highway passage between Hainan, China’s southernmost province hailed as the Oriental Hawaii, and Guangdong province, state media reported recently. It’s known the grand infrastructure project is expected to address the long-standing “traffic woes” of the island province, for which the Chinese government has rolled out a raft of plans this year in a bid to transform it into the country’s biggest free trade zone.

According to the State Oceanic Administration’s official newspaper, relevant government sectors started groundwork related to the construction of a channel on the Qiongzhou strait in the 1990s. Now with Hainan’s economic growth being given strategic significance, the long-held plan is finally to be executed.

President Xi Jinping unveiled in his speech at the April’s Boao Forum in Hainan measures to develop horse racing and sports lottery business as part of efforts to boost the island’s economy. The Chinese leader also promised to grant international companies operating in the province greater economic freedom.

Soon after Xi’s statement, the Communist Party of China and State Council joined hands in issuing a “guidance” to establish a free trade zone in Hainan island by 2020 and port by 2025, reported Xinhua. The document confirmed foreign companies will be encouraged to set up their international or regional headquarters in Hainan and participate in the building of the port.

Against this backdrop, the National Oceanic Newspaper reported that “the construction project of an undersea tunnel has been filed with the National Development and Reform Commission (China’s economic planner) for review.” Based on the draft plan, with a total investment of over 150 billion yuan, the tunnel would allow both rail and highway pass by connecting the Leizhou Peninsular in the southernmost part of Guangdong province and Hainan island.

In recent years, with a booming tourism industry, the coastal city of Haikou, the capital of Hainan province, receives large numbers of domestic travelers all year round, and especially in winter. The Qiongzhou strait, as the major gateway connecting the island and other parts of the country, has become quite busy.

During the past Spring Festival period, tens of thousands of self-driving tourists were stranded in Haikou because a heavy fog disrupted ferry services in the coastal city’s all three ports. The emergency hit national headlines, shedding light on the fact that climate still greatly affected navigation in the Qiongzhou strait.

It’s this kind of inconvenience that initially prompted local authorities look into possibilities of an undersea tunnel or sea-crossing bridge.

It was previously reported by the Xinhua News Agency that, between 1994 and 2002, the Guangdong provincial government had allocated over 80 million yuan into the research work on a cross-strait pass. Besides collecting a multitude of weather information, hydrologic, landform, geological and seismic data, the research teams studied the necessity and technical issues of such a grand construction project.

In April 2007, the Ministry of Communications sponsored a seminar in Haikou to review the research findings, when all of the 23 present experts from various sectors agreed it’s both necessary and feasible to build a “cross-strait passageway”.

In March 2008, under the direction of the National Reform and Development Commission (NDRC), the ministries of railways and transport, and local governments of Guangdong and Hainan signed a cooperation memorandum in Beijing, formally launching the preparatory work for the Qiongzhou strait passageway. A steering group was thus formed to take charge of the work.

By August 11, 2010, a local Chinese media reported that the feasibility research on the offshore geological drilling had been completed. However, since then, there was no news about the project for many years.

Until March 2016, the Qiongzhou strait project once again was put under spotlight during the “two sessions” period, when Wang Mengshu, a veteran tunnel expert and academician with the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE) put forward a proposal, calling on the cross-strait channel to be built as soon as possible. Wang specifically proposed the building of a cross-strait undersea tunnel.

By 2018, with large numbers of tourists stranded in Haikou during the Spring Festival golden week, topics related to building an undersea channel drew widespread discussion on the Chinese social media.

“An undersea tunnel or sea-crossing bridge would be unnecessary just for tourism. With scenic beauty being mostly a seasonal thing, tourists’ need could hardly bring enough traffic on daily basis (to make the projects profitable). So, issues related to national security, ecology and economic growth must be measured,” Xie Yanjun, a professor with the University of Hainan, told CCTV, China’s national broadcaster in an interview this February.

Unexpectedly, only two months later, Hainan was propped up to an equal footing of Shenzhen of three decades ago when the country first embarked on a reform and opening up path. It seems the time is right to start the grand “passageway” infrastructure project.  


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