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Thursday, July 2, 1998 Published at 21:20 GMT 22:20 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Clinton to discuss trade with Hong Kong

Tung Chee-Hwa: new airport is a symbol of Hong Kong's brilliant future

The airport of airports. BBC South East Asia correspondent Matt Frei reports.
The United States President, Bill Clinton is in Hong Kong on the final leg of his nine-day Chinese tour.

He is the first American president to visit Hong Kong, and his party were the first foreigners to land at Hong Kong's new airport.

In a visit that will focus on trade links between the US and Hong Kong, Mr Clinton will meet the territory's chief executive, Tung Chee-Hwa, and members of the American business community.

[ image: Clinton: first western leader to land at the new airport]
Clinton: first western leader to land at the new airport
The President is also expected to meet the leader of the Hong Kong Democratic Party, Martin Lee.

Mr Clinton landed at the airport just hours after it was officially opened by Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

The opening of the airport, one of the biggest engineering projects in the world, was marked by a colourful ceremony, with performances by singing stars and a traditional lion dance. President Jiang unveiled an official plaque watched by 3,000 guests.

Chief Executive Tung Chee-Hwa described the new airport - beset in its early construction stages by disputes between China and the UK - as a symbol of Hong Kong's brilliant future prospects.

President Jiang was the first to use the airport, flying back to mainland China after taking part in celebrations to mark the first anniversary of Britain's handover of Hong Kong. Commercial flights will begin using the airport on Monday.

Triumph of superlatives

The airport at Chek Lap Kok, designed by Sir Norman Foster and a host of other architects, took six years to build and cost $20 bn (£13 bn).

[ image:  ]
Claimed by its builders as the biggest civil engineering project in history, the terminal building is the largest covered space in the world.

The contracts for glass, steel and granite were the biggest ever.

Chek Lap Kok was originally a small mountainous island, which has been flattened and extended into the South China Sea to four times its original size.

Sir Norman Foster describes the new airport terminal
A suspension bridge was built for railway and motorway links from the centre of the city. And, of course, the bridge too is the longest of its kind.

The airport is five hours' flying time from half the world's population. It is designed to accommodate 80 million passengers a year, more than London's Heathrow and New York's JFK combined.

Chequered history

It replaces the old Kai Tak airport, in the heart of urban Hong Kong, which is full to capacity with no room for expansion.

[ image: Planes going to the old airport fly very close to urban areas]
Planes going to the old airport fly very close to urban areas
Plans for a new airport made in the 1980s were caught up in political disagreements between Britain and China when Hong Kong was still under British administration.

Now the Hong Kong authorities want the project to be an object of national pride.

But the BBC's Hong Kong correspondent says it is uncertain how busy the airport will be when it opens for commercial traffic.

Its completion comes as the territory's visitor arrival figures have plummeted and Hong Kong is sliding steadily into economic recession. There have also been complaints about high cargo handling costs.

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