Quib­bles over costs miss the point, Lau Nai-ke­ung says — we need the high-speed rail to deepen cross-bound­ary con­nec­tions

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

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.

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