HONG KONG (AP) _ The governor today announced plans for a new airport and port complex costing $16 billion that is designed to boost confidence in the British colony before China takes over in 1997.
The two-runway airport, to be built on an offshore island and landfill, and a new high-speed rail system and six-lane highway linking it to urban areas will be the territory’s largest construction project ever.
″By pressing ahead with such ambitious programs despite the special pressures which our community has so recently faced, the government is demonstrating its commitment to Hong Kong’s future,″ Governor Sir David Wilson said in his annual speech on the state of the colony.
The announcement comes as the government tries to restore confidence in the territory, which was severely shaken by the harsh crackdown on dissent in China in June.
Many residents are concerned about what will happen when the territory is handed to Communist China in 1997, even though Beijing has promised Hong Kong can maintain its capitalist system for 50 years and enjoy a ″high degree of autonomy.″
In addressing those concerns, Wilson said a draft Bill of Rights that would allow people to seek redress in courts if they believe their civil or political rights are violated would be ready by July 1990.
But he did not discuss the increased political tension of recent days between Hong Kong and China that has exacerbated the confidence crisis.
Beijing was angered by the colony’s decision last month to allow a Chinese swimmer who had sought political asylum to fly to the United States. It retaliated by refusing for the first time to accept the return of Chinese caught entering Hong Kong illegally.
The move has sparked fears in the colony of a flood of illegal immigrants.
Wilson devoted much of his speech to the massive construction projects that promise to change the face of this territory of 5.7 million people.
″Physically, Hong Kong will have changed almost beyond recongition,″ he said.
The centerpiece of the program is a new airport at Chek Lap Kok, about 15 miles west of downtown Hong Kong, which will replace the colony’s existing airport, famed for a harrowing flight path that forces approaching aircraft to seemingly skim rooftops of the crowded Kowloon peninsula.
The new airport, which should open by early 1997, will operate 24 hours a day and be able to handle 80 million passengers a year. That is more than three times the maximum capacity of the existing facility.
A town for at least 150,000 people as well as industrial and commercial facilities will be built near the new airport.
Hong Kong also will construct ″what amounts to a completely new port on the western side of the territory,″ not far from the airport, Wilson said. A large breakwater between two offshore islands will be built to increase sheltered anchorage and a new shipping channel will be dredged.
The price of the projects is expected to be about $16.28 billion, Wilson said. Although he did not provide specifics on financing, the government has more than $8.97 billion in surplus.
Wilson also mentioned an aggressive land reclamation policy that will expand the downtown area about 990 feet into the colony’s famed harbor. In addition, the site of the existing airport will be redeveloped.
The governor failed to break new ground on political issues such as bringing democratic change to Hong Kong and giving a segment of the population the right to emigrate to Great Britain.
Political commentator Joseph Y.S. Cheng said the speech will have a ″fairly neutral effect″ on the confidence of Hong Kong people in the future. ″He has done what he can. What he said has already been anticipated.
″Hong Kong people probably realize that their future is not determined by these well-written highly diplomatic policy speeches by the governor, but by the political situation in China,″ he said.
The speech had little impact on the Hong Kong stock exchange, widely viewed as a barometer of public sentiment. Stocks fell slightly in the afternoon.
Philip Niem, research director at the stock brokerage Hoare Govett Asia Ltd., said the plan for a new airport had generally been expected since 1983.
″This won’t necessarily influence foreign investors. I don’t think it is the key issue. The key issue is still China,″ he said.