Page last updated at 04:06 GMT, Tuesday, 15 September 2009 05:06 UK

China and Macau to develop island


The authorities in Zhuhai, southern China, have announced a detailed blueprint of plans to develop Hengqin island.

The island, home to about 4,000 people, is very close to Macau.

The plans call for oil and gas terminals, entertainment centres and a branch of Macau's university to be accessed by tunnel.

Development planning for the complex cross-border project has been under way for the past decade.

Debate has been controversial due to the differing legal and political systems between China and Macau.

Macau is a former Portuguese colony which has now been granted autonomy under Chinese sovereignty.

Bold plans

The blueprint announced by the Zhuhai authorities includes a massive gas terminal and gas-engine generator projects and a huge ocean-themed entertainment centre.

Most controversially it will include a branch of the Macau University.

A Zhuhai official said students and staff would be able to access the university through a special tunnel without needing to go through immigration checkpoints.

"Because the new campus will be operated according to Macau laws... we expect to make it a self-contained area that is separated from other parts of the island," Niu Jing, deputy director of Hengqin's administrative committee, was quoted as saying by the South China Morning Post newspaper.

It remains unclear if Macau police would have access to the campus on Chinese territory.

Zhuhai authorities say they want to see the island generate 56 billion yuan ($8bn, £4.9bn) in annual GDP by 2020.

Currently the island of 106 square km is described as bleak, largely empty, generating just 128 million last year.

The population is expected to increase to 120,000 by 2015 and 280,000 by 2020.

One country?

The blueprint announcement follows the approval from China's central government in August for Hengqin to become the country's third strategic new zone, after Shanghai's Pudong district and Tianjin's Binhai area.

"It will be a pilot project for a new co-operation mode between Hong Kong and Macau under the 'one country, two systems' arrangement," Zhuhai mayor Zhong Shijian told reporters.

He said the island would also pilot co-operation projects with Macau in customs, financial and revenue systems and land management, and was looking for investment from the world's top corporations.

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