Chinese Bridge-Building

China’s latest bid for bigness is 34 miles long. It contains a whopping 400,000 tons of steel and took nine years and $20 billion to build.

The item in question is the newly opened Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, which assumes the title of the longest sea bridge in the world.

It is not the longest bridge in the world of any kind. China already took that title in 2003 by its Danyang–Kunshan Grand Bridge, which goes on for 101.9 miles. That bridge goes over land and water. The new one is the longest anywhere that goes only over water.

If raw statistics fail to impress, comparisons may help. Like the one that insinuated itself into media coverage, saying that the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau is 20 times the size of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Sort of puts things in perspective in the international infrastructure sweepstakes, no?

China is understandably proud of its achievement, which includes two man-made islands and a four-mile undersea tunnel, and comes with a government guarantee that the structure can stand up to the worst extremes of geology and weather, from earthquakes to typhoons. It is claimed that even an 8.0 magnitude earthquake will no more than cause this giant to sway a little.

The new bridge, the pride of Chinese industrial might, was inaugurated this week in a gala ceremony.

One might think that China should feel it has nothing to prove. That it is a political, military and economic juggernaut of increasingly formidable dimensions is a fact of life.

But China does feel it still has a lot to prove. Like its sovereign right to set its own tariffs; to maintain social order by any means; and like its hegemony over the Asia Pacific, which includes the uppity former British colony of Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge connects that still highly-westernized, independent-minded city with the mainland. The bridge cuts travel time to and from Hong Kong from about three hours to about 45 minutes, but improved transportation isn’t the only thing on the minds of China’s leaders.

China intends for the bridge to bring Hong Kong closer to the mainland not only in travel time but economically and politically as well. It’s a high-tech embrace that the freedom-loving populace of Hong Kong will find hard to resist. China fully expects that Hong Kong will eventually be as much a part of the country as Guangzhou or Shenzhen.

The opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge is a statement to the world that, though it may take time, China will have its way.

Sooner than anyone could have thought, China emerged from decades of colonization and plunder, of civil war and endemic weakness, to a position of world power. It cannot yet overawe the United States or Russia, nor is it yet a superpower; but the geopolitical ground is clearly shifting.

A former commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, predicted that it is likely the U.S. will be at war with China in 15 years. The pronouncement was addressed to a security forum in Warsaw on Wednesday: As the U.S. pivots to confront the Chinese military challenge, European allies will have to develop their own defenses against Russia.

Hodges said: “I think in 15 years — it’s not inevitable, but it is a very strong likelihood — that we will be at war with China. The United States does not have the capacity to do everything it has to do in Europe and in the Pacific to deal with the Chinese threat.”

China, meanwhile, professes peace. It is the Americans, they say, who make trade war and threaten actual war. The Chinese are interested in peaceful activities like building bridges. And leave their economy alone.

That those bridges are 20 times the size of anything in the U.S. is a fact Beijing can legitimately be proud of. It isn’t China’s fault that the infrastructure of the United States is decades out of date and falling apart. There is no one to blame for that but America itself.

The prospect of war raised by Gen. Hodges seems premature. Do we really need 15 years of saber-rattling?

From a military standpoint, there seems little reason to assume that China is threatening America or Europe, and there is no reason for America to threaten China.

Still, the rise of China, the awakening of the “sleeping giant,” is an ever-growing reality. Conflict with its expanding power — in some form or another — is not something which is unthinkable, and the West must be take quiet steps to prepare for it.

In the meantime, from a purely logistical standpoint, the Chinese are to be congratulated for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge. It’s what the world needs more of.