China: Lift-off at last for Hong Kong airport

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The Independent Online
One of the world's largest and most expensive airports will open for business on 6 July, the Hong Kong government announced yesterday. Although Sir Donald Tsang, the financial secretary, said Hong Kong International Airport was opening on budget and on time, it is a year behind schedule.

Unlike most big infrastructure projects, Hong Kong's airport has not suffered from building delays, but political wrangling between Britain and China which marked the dying years of the colonial regime.

Problems over financing the airport reached such an impasse that the former prime minister John Major was forced to go to Peking in 1991 to try to sort them out.

He was furious to find himself in a position of being the first Western leader to visit the Chinese capital after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

His visit barely moved the logjam. In the end, Peking got its way, forcing the Hong Kong government to finance the HK$155bn (pounds 12.4bn) project largely out of its coffers rather than by long-term loans which would be repayable after China assumed control of the former colony.

The airport will eventually have capacity to handle 87 million passengers and 9 million tonnes of cargo a year. This is more than double the present passenger traffic at the existing airport and will increase cargo throughput sixfold.

The government had been thinking of opening the airport in April, when the terminal and runway facilities will be complete. However, a railway linking the new airport to the centre of town will not be finished until the end of June.

At a meeting of the cabinet yesterday members bowed to pressure to think again about trying to open the airport without the railway.

- Steve Crawshaw

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