Quibbles over costs miss the point, Lau Nai-keung says — we need the high-speed rail to deepen cross-boundary connections
It is a pity that discussions on the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link focus only on construction delays, the outrageous overspend and controversy over the so-called checkpoint co-location issue. The most fundamental rationale for the high-speed rail is none of the above — we did not decide to build it because it is value for money. We build roads to connect, and highspeed rail to connect faster. And we want to connect faster because we perceive the need to connect.
Let me share a beautiful song here. It is called Tianlu, or the Road to Heaven, which describes the benefits of the Qinghai-Tibet railway and the joy of the recipients of such benefits. Written by Qu Yuan and Yin Qing, it is made famous by the performance of Han Hong. Below is a rough translation of the lyrics.
On the green grassland in the morning,
I saw the king of eagles bathing in morning sunshine,
flying in the blue sky like auspicious cloud,
bringing fortune to sons and daughters of Tibet.
On the top of a high mountain at dusk,
I saw the railway being built to my hometown,
like dragons crossing over mountains,
delivering good health to the snow-covered plateau. That is a mystical road to heaven, Bringing warmth to the borderland .
From now on mountains are no longer high and roads are no longer long, The author is a veteran current affairs commentator.
Sons and daughters of all ethnicities rejoice together.
Cynics will say this song was nothing but propaganda, but it was voted repeatedly as the most loved by the mainland people in the early 2000s.
A petty person can never understand why roads are good. We have a lot of this kind in Hong Kong. They will say these projects are white elephants and that nobody is going to use the railroads, or that the construction is bad for the environment or some “aboriginal ways of life”.
Maybe they are correct. If Hong Kong people are not interested in connecting with the mainland, of course they see no needs for the roads. Worse, new roads bring more mainland people to Hong Kong, which is a bad thing for many of these parochial Hong Kong residents.
But most Chinese see things in a different light. Consider young people who work in the provincial capitals with parents and relatives in the counties, of which there are many. High-speed rail means family reunion once a month that’s affordable, reliable and efficient. Before high-speed rail, sons and daughters could see their parents only two or three times a year, usually during the Lunar New Year, Labor Day and National Day.
To these families, the railroad is indeed a road to heaven. No wonder they respond to the song.
Hong Kong residents who do not appreciate the benefits created by the Guangzhou-ShenzhenHong Kong Express Rail Link are heartless, to say the least. Many residents in the city have relatives and other connections in Shenzhen and Guangzhou, and who are they to deprive their fellow citizens of the possibility for more frequent reunions?
Used properly, the new highspeed rail will also bring business opportunities to the city. That would in turn translate into more jobs.
It makes no sense that Hong Kong people are so unenthusiastic about the new high-speed rail. One obvious reason is lack of proper marketing by the government. If I were the government official who is responsible for promoting it — not that this role exists — I would have shown the public concrete examples of how they can benefit from the new high-speed rail instead of giving only vague and abstract economic figures.
Used properly, the new high-speed rail will also bring business opportunities to the city. That would in turn translate into more jobs.